Thailand’s Digital Economy Minister Pichet Durongkaveroj has pulled the plug on his predecessor’s high-priority infrastructure fund that was to see $420 million (15 billion baht) of taxpayer money invested into NBN Co, a 50-50 joint venture between state telcos CAT Telecom and TOT Corporation set up to manage the pooled infrastructure.
Before the rebranding of the ICT Ministry into the Digital Economy and Society Ministry, the infrastructure fund was a high-priority project that was to be set up this fiscal year.
The future of the NBN project will now be in the hands of CAT and TOT, who will have to come up with a business case for it on their own. The DE said it will not make any further policy-level commitments. The State Enterprise Policy Board had earlier identified the pooling of state telco assets as a priority for the optimal use of the assets.
Pichet said the DE remains committed to its “Pracharat” (“people and state”) national broadband project that will see 95% of the population gain access to 30-Mbps broadband that costs less than 2% of GNI per capita.
DE vice-minister Pansak Sirirutchatapong said the DE will ensure that CAT and TOT do not invest in overlapping areas and will work with the telecoms regulator NBTC to enable infrastructure sharing. The backhaul networks of CAT, TOT and the new Pracharat national broadband network will be open for sharing from July 1 onwards to ensure the lowest price.
Pansak said that the project to create a hub in the eastern province of Sriracha – Digital Park Thailand – was still on track and promised international fiber links so that Thai online businesses could compete with their counterparts in Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan.
He said that the DE was working on expanding the proposed China-Thailand power grid to include fiber as well, and is pushing for a new fiber link that would connect Sriracha and Hong Kong. This would not only drastically lower Thailand’s Internet costs but would give many carriers in the region a new route for fault tolerance.
Earlier, the ministry had allocated $142 million (5 billion baht) for CAT telecom to invest in new fiber optic cables in order to make Thailand a regional hub and compete with Singapore. However, Pansak said that the project’s budget had been reassigned – instead of investing in new fiber, CAT will upgrade its existing network, citing difficulty in G2G negotiations in laying new fiber networks.