The president of the Thailand Development and Research Institute (TDRI) think tank has slammed the government for promoting a paradoxical vision of Thailand 4.0 that calls for a knowledge-based economy yet stifles free flow of information and smothers potential startups with mountains of red tape and paranoia.
Speaking at a Chulalongkorn University panel on the Internet and Thailand 4.0, TDRI president Dr Somkiat Tangkitvanich said that the government was suffering from cognitive dissonance by trying to entice knowledge-based companies to invest in Thailand – in particular the Eastern Economic Corridor and Digital Park Thailand – while also engaging in censorship of information through the OTT broadcast registration notification, the Single Gateway (a.k.a. the Great Firewall of Thailand), and most recently announcing plans to require biometric data for SIM card registration and tracking in the name of national security.
Internet companies today are very concerned about Thailand’s heavy-handed regulation of the Internet. Somkiat said that it was not only Western companies such as Google who are concerned, but also Asian ones. Without an open Internet, nobody will invest in Thailand, and the hopes of adopting a China style of governance forcing companies to comply simply cannot happen as the market is so much smaller, he said.
He suggested that rather than micro-manage the Internet as it is doing now, the government should put its efforts into opening up government data for searching and indexing.
Meanwhile, he noted, Internet connectivity is still an issue. Today 60% of Thai people have access to the Internet, but geographically it is still very concentrated in cities, which is fueling a new digital divide.
Somkiat also questioned how the government could promote startups when they all end up caught in red tape. Somkiat criticized the startup mentality that the government is adopting. He said that simply giving them funding and expecting them to come up with ideas does not work. Creating a successful startup is not like a making a class presentation. It takes trial and error, and Thailand 4.0 does not understand that mentality.
Somkiat cited the government’s handling of 3D printers as a prime example. In February, the Cabinet approved a regulation calling for licensing of importing, stocking, selling or owning a 3D printer. The reason given was that 3D printers could be used to print bad things such as guns and other things that could threaten the safety and well-being of the citizenry – thus the new regulation was enacted to ensure peace and safety for everyone in the country.
On the topic of the NBTC’s OTT broadcast notification, Somkiat joked that at first he thought the “OTT” stood for “Over-Takorn-Tantasith” (the NBTC secretary-general), but now he understands that Takorn was only following orders from above.
Takorn has recently made headlines by offering state telco TOT the use of Article 44, the absolute power clause in the constitution, to fast-track its 2.3 GHz deal with Dtac to get around laws and regulations, and by repeatedly contradicting and countermanding his own board. This has led many to believe Takorn is taking orders directly from the ruling junta.