Digital Economy and Society Minister Dr Pichet Durongkaveroj announced a huge mega-project called the Digital Park Thailand with “unlimited” bandwidth located near the eastern seaboard industrial zone that will feature tax breaks for companies as well as income tax exemptions for “talented people” and returning expatriates.
Delivering the keynote address at AIS Visions 2017, Pichet said Digital Park Thailand will bring together government, academia and industry to serve the needs of the world. Located on a 240-acre plot of land currently owned by CAT Telecom in Sri-Racha, Digital Park Thailand will work closely with the automotive industry just down the road on the eastern seaboard, and will feature IoT research, aviation collaboration, e-commerce, e-payments, encryption technologies and all sorts of hardware and software solutions.
Pichet said that unless Thailand wants to be stuck in the middle-income trap for the next 50 years, the country needed to innovate and nurture its homegrown technologies rather than buying everything in. The era of low-cost labor has long passed, he said.
The DE Minister said that he wanted Facebook, Google, Amazon and YouTube to invest in Digital Park Thailand and make it their regional headquarters. The government will help by providing them with unlimited bandwidth as well as submarine cables to Europe and China’s One Belt, One Road project.
Digital Park Thailand will also host a new “University 4.0”, rather than bringing in traditional universities to the new campus. He said there was no point in bringing in the old, and that it would be a fresh start.
Thailand lacks R&D, but who can blame the many graduates of MIT and other Ivy League universities who do not have a career in industry upon returning to Thailand and most end up lecturing, he mused. Pichet promised full Board of Investment benefits (tax exemptions, visas and foreign ownership of land) for investors in Digital Park Thailand, and said that he has asked the Finance Ministry to even waive income tax for these “talented innovators”.
Pichet said he had informed Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak of the project. He also extended an invitation to AIS on the spot to invest there.
Apart from the Digital Park Thailand announcement, Pichet also spoke of the possibilities for commerce and education through digital technologies and how telemedicine with remote diagnosis, specialized online ear probes and other medical equipment is now a reality.
All of this requires connectivity, and his ministry is working with state telco TOT to provide Internet access to 24,700 out of Thailand’s 74,000 village by the end of this year as part of a huge scale-up project.
With connectivity the government will provide e-commerce opportunities, e-healthcare and e-government services to the villages. He said that digital technology was the answer to the country’s problem of inequality.
Finally, the Digital Economy Minister repeated the junta’s mantra, telling everyone gathered at the event to think positively and not to dig up old issues and reopen old wounds of the past decade so that Thailand can move forward.