The following year, the Australian International Development Plan (IDP) assisted Prince of Songkhla University (PSU) in setting up a dial-up e-mail connection. By 1991, five universities had established internet connectivity, and by 1995, the technology was commercialized and made available to the general public.OBSTACLES TO ACCESS According to the National Electronics and Computer Technology Center (NECTEC), the number of internet users in Thailand steadily increased from 3.5 million in 2001 to 18.million in 2009, or 27 percent of the country’s roughly 66 million people.4 Mobile telephony is more widespread, with over 69 million mobile-phone subscribers in 2010, and a penetration rate of 104 percent.5 This is a marked increase from a penetration rate of about 27 percent in 2002.Internet and broadband usage continued to expand in 2010. The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) reported that as of September 2010, Thailand had over 2.6 million broadband subscribers, representing a growth of almost 24 percent over the previous year.7 These gains have been driven by declining prices as well as an increased demand for alternative sources of information and platforms for networking and sharing information amid the country’s ongoing political crisis. The emergence of popular socialnetworking sites has also fueled greater internet usage. A 2009 study found that most internet users had access to high-speed internet, while approximately 10 percent used dialup and 10 percent accessed the internet from their mobile phones.8 Nevertheless, most complaints received by the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Institute (TCI) Sirin Palasri, Steven Huter and Zita Wenzel, The History of the Internet in Thailand (Eugene: University of Oregon, 1999), http://www.nsrc.org/case-studies/thailand/english/index.html.
National Electronics and Computer Technology Center (NECTEC), “Internet User in Thailand,” http://internet.nectec.or.th/webstats/internetuser.iirSec=internetuser, accessed July 3, 2010. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) cites a similar number of 17.4 million users in 2009, “ICT Statistics 2009—Internet,” http://www.itu.int/ITUD/icteye/Reporting/ShowReportFrame.aspxReportName=/WTI/InformationTechnologyPublic&ReportFormat=HTML4.0& RP_intYear=2009&RP_intLanguageID=1&RP_bitLiveData=False.
National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), “Thailand ICT Info,” December 16, 2010, http://www.ntc.or.th/TTID/.
NECTEC, Internet User Profile of Thailand 2009 (Bangkok: NECTEC, 2009), 52–56; National News Bureau of Thailand (NNT), “Survey Shows Growth in Internet Use,” press release, January 15, 2010, http://thainews.prd.go.th/en/news.phpid=255301150043.
THAILAND FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net involve connections that prove slower than advertised by internet-service providers (ISPs).High-speed internet is available in cybercafes, which are used mostly by young people to play online games.
Despite the growing usage in recent years, only 7 percent of Thai households have access to a computer, whereas color television sets can be found in 95.5 percent of households.10 According to a 2009 study of internet users, the majority used a home or workplace connection, with only a small percentage using cybercafes.11 The survey also found more women getting online than men. Users are concentrated in urban rather than rural areas, though the number of rural users has risen slightly in recent years.12 Lowincome groups and the elderly are also less likely to have the resources or computer literacy needed to access the internet.
Presenting another barrier to greater access, the cost of internet service in Thailand is high compared to the income of many Thais. An ADSL broadband connection costs US$per month,13 while the minimum daily wage is about US$7.14 However, the main factor behind the low penetration rates is a long-standing lack of a dedicated government effort to build up the fixed-line infrastructure and boost the development of information and communications technologies (ICTs).
Advanced web applications such as the video-sharing site YouTube, the socialnetworking site Facebook, the Twitter microblogging platform, and international bloghosting services like Blogger are freely available in Thailand. Such sites have become important spaces for political expression, including messages that implicitly challenge the existing political power structure and prevalence of elite politics. Social media have also been a key channel for citizen journalists to disseminate reports on events not covered by the mainstream media, as during the civil unrest in April and May 2010.15 YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter were all in the top 20 most visited websites in Thailand during 2010.16 The number of Facebook users has increased exponentially in recent years, growing “Civic Sector Submitted a Complaint to TCI to Solve Problem on Telecommunications Services,” Telecommunications Consumer Protection Institute (TCI), December 14, 2010, http://www.tci.or.th/newshot_detail.phpid=23#newshot (in Thai).
Economist, Pocket World in Figures: 2010 Edition (London: Economist Newspaper Limited, 2010), 227.
NECTEC, Internet User Profile of Thailand 2009; National News Bureau of Thailand (NNT), “Survey Shows Growth in Internet Use.” Lekasina’s Blog, “Internet User Profile in Thailand,” blog, January 18, 2010, http://lekasina.wordpress.com/2010/01/18/internet-user-profile-in-thailand-2009/.
“ADSL Internet Prices in Thailand- November 2010,” Select IT, http://www.select.co.th/2010/11/adsl-internet-prices-inthailand/, accessed February 16, 2011.
“Thailand Raises Minimum Wage,” Thailand Business News, December 10, 2010, http://thailand-businessnews.com/economics/27852-thailand-raises-minimum-wage.
Thai Netizen Network, Internet Liberty Report 2010 (Bangkok: Thai Netizen Network, 2010).
“Top Sites in Thailand,” Alexa, http://www.alexa.com/topsites/countries/TH, accessed February 16, 2011.
THAILAND FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net from approximately 250,000 in January 2009 to three million in May 2010 and over six million by December 2010.Some 125 ISPs have been licensed to operate in Thailand.18 However, the stateowned TOT, formerly the Telephone Organization of Thailand, retains the largest market share for high-speed internet services, with 41.2 percent at the end of the first quarter of 2009. Its closest competitors are two privately owned companies, True Corporation, with 37.6 percent, and TT&T, with 20.8 percent.The state-owned Communication Authority of Thailand (CAT) controls spectrum and the international internet gateway. TOT is supervised by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT), which implements the Computer Crimes Act (CCA) of 2007 and filters restricted content. MICT oversight means that political actors are able to direct the activities of TOT and CAT, which obstructs the development of the telecommunications sector. Opening a cybercafe in Thailand involves a relatively simple registration process.
Three major mobile-phone service providers are private companies; two of them are owned by companies based in Singapore and Norway that operate under concessions from TOT and CAT. This allocation system does not promote free-market competition. The licensing process for third-generation (3G) mobile-phone service and wireless broadband has been delayed by political disputes. TOT has clashed with the NTC over the reallocation of TOT-owned spectrum, and providing 3G licenses to private mobile-phone companies, a move that it fears would cause TOT to lose significant revenue due to reduced profits from concessions. Conflicts over the creation of a new telecom regulator have also contributed to the delays.In 2004, the NTC was established as a nonpartisan regulatory body. It is generally seen as independent from the government, but is sometimes subject to political or corporate influence through patronage networks. Plans for the establishment of an independent television and radio regulator called the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) were scuttled after the 1997 constitution was annulled during the 2006 coup, while the new constitution calls for a single entity to handle the duties of the NTC and the NBC.
Legislation to that effect—an amendment of the Broadcast and Telecommunication Frequencies Allocation and Regulation Act—finally passed the parliament in late 2010, but continued disagreements among the stakeholders have further delayed the formation of and “Politics Drives Facebook Membership in Thailand Past 3 Million Mark,” Asian Correspondent, May 21, 2010, http://asiancorrespondent.com/jon-russell/2010/05/21/politics-drives-facebook-membership-in-thailand-past-3-millionmark; Socialbakers, “Thailand Facebook Statistics,” http://www.socialbakers.com/facebook-statistics/thailand.
NTC, “List of Licensed Telecommunications Businesses,” http://www.ntc.or.th/license/index.phpshow=all (in Thai), accessed August 8, 2010.
Sinfah Tunsarawuth and Toby Mendel, “Analysis of Computer Crime Act of Thailand,” Center for Law and Democracy, May 2010, http://www.law-democracy.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/10.05.Thai_.Computer-Act-Analysis.pdf.
Phisanu Phromchanya, “Thai Court Stalls 3G-License Auction,” Wall Street Journal, September 16, 2010, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703440604575495641836172872.html#.
THAILAND FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net licensing by the merged regulator, the National Broadcast and Telecommunication Commission (NBTC). As a result, a full 3G license has not been granted, though the service is available to a limited extent via trial networks and within specific areas.21 More generally, multiple agencies are involved with responding to reported violations of the CCA, creating confusion, overlap, and greater space for abuse of the law’s vague provisions.
LIMITS ON CONTENT Although the Thai government has been blocking some internet content since 2003, the restrictions have expanded in recent years, in terms of both the number of websites targeted and the scope of topics censored. According to a 2007 study by the OpenNet Initiative, most of the websites blocked by the authorities at the time involved pornography, online gambling, or circumvention tools. Even within those subject areas, filtering was inconsistent, with different ISPs blocking different information. Nevertheless, some politically oriented websites were found to be blocked. They included an anti-coup site (www.19sept.com) and sites related to the Patani region in the south, including the Patani Malay Human Rights Organization (www.pmhro.org). Several individual URLs selling texts critical of the monarchy were found to be blocked on the online bookseller Amazon.com.Since 2007, the number of websites blocked by the authorities has grown significantly, particularly those with content perceived as critical of the monarchy.23 A recent academic study highlights the overall scale of, and exponential increase in, online censorship over the past three years.24 According to the report, there have been 117 court orders to block access to nearly 75,000 URLs since 2007. On average, 690 URLs are blocked daily. In 2007, there was one court order to block two URLs. In 2008, there were 13 court orders to block 2,071 URLs. In 2009, there were 64 court orders to block 28,URLs, and then in 2010, there were 39 court orders to block 43,908 URLs. The research also shows that the vast majority of the websites (57,330 URLs) were blocked due to lese majeste content, while a much smaller number were blocked for material involving pornography (16,740 URLs), abortion (357 URLs), gambling (246 URLs), or other Nicole McCormick, “3G Still on Hold in Thailand,” Telecom Asia, February 2, 2011, http://www.telecomasia.net/content/3g-still-hold-thailand.
OpenNet Initiative, “Country Profile: Thailand,” May 9, 2007, http://opennet.net/research/profiles/thailand.
Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT), “Thai Website Censorship Jumps by More Than 500% Since Coup!” news release, January 1, 2007, http://facthai.wordpress.com/2007/01/15/thai-website-censorship-jumps-by-more-than-500-sincecoup/.
Sawatree Suksri, Siriphon Kusonsinwut, and Orapin Yingyongpathana, Situational Report on Control and Censorship of Online Media, Through the Use of Laws and the Imposition of Thai State Policies (Bangkok: iLaw Project, 2010), http://www.boellsoutheastasia.org/downloads/ilaw_report_EN.pdf [henceforth iLaw Project Report].
THAILAND FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net matters.25 Court decisions to block URLs are reportedly made very quickly and with minimal deliberation, usually within less than a day from the application for blocking.
Online censorship intensified further after April 7, 2010, when the government declared a state of emergency and created a mechanism that allows the authorities to suddenly block—without a court order—any website considered to be publishing politically sensitive and controversial information (see below). A large number of websites focused on the opposition red shirt movement, led by the UDD, were blocked. These included individual YouTube videos, Facebook groups, and Google groups. Also filtered were less clearly partisan online news outlets or human rights groups, such as Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT), the online newspaper Prachatai, the Political Prisoners in Thailand blog, and Asia Sentinel.International news websites like the Economist, the New York Times, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and human rights groups such as Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Reporters Without Borders, are accessible in Thailand. However, some print editions of the Economist were not available because the distributors decided not to import them due to content deemed to violate lese majeste provisions. The WikiLeaks website was blocked as of the end of 2010. The organization’s release of classified U.S. diplomatic cables in 2010 included explosive comments about the monarchy and the royal succession. While the leaked material was not directly accessible, Thai readers could view international media outlets with access to the files, such as Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
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