In dusty, cramped rooms across Vietnam, kids and adults log on to the web in internet shops. It’s a common sight on every other street in Vietnam, from major urban areas to the farthest-flung rural regions. Family businesses clear out their first floor lobbies, mount fans on walls, and install rows upon rows of desktop PCs to rent out web-time at an hourly rate. It’s a stable business because kids and teenagers want video games, adults want info and email, and everybody watches YouTube and downloads free music. With Vietnam’s internet penetration at 34.3 percent, roughly four percent over the world internet penetration average, and is one of the largest populations in Southeast Asia on the internet. Vietnam’s netizens are ranked 18th in the world with over 31 million people online.
2012 marks the 15th anniversary of Vietnam’s official connection to the internet. Gone are the days when people had to sneak in dial-up modems through customs to access the internet just to email their friends abroad. In the last 10 years, Vietnam’s internet population has increased 15-fold but government ministers and leaders of Vietnam’s still-growing internet landscape remain thirsty for more.
In a ceremony in the capital of Hanoi, celebrating the 15 years of internet development, professors, ministers, executives, and leaders gathered together to share their thoughts, hopes, and promises on where the internet in Vietnam is headed next. Dr. Mai Liem Truc, former deputy minister of post and transport laments that “there are still 60 million people who are not using the internet.” He cites that one of the reasons Vietnam has experienced so much growth compared to its regional neighbors is because of the price of web access, which is on a par – or a bit lower – in price with neighboring countries. Most people pay under 300,000 VND ($15) per month for broadband internet via state-owned telecoms.
Dr. Truc sees two frontiers that Vietnam needs to face for successful internet implementation:
- Encouraging businesses to reach farther out into the rural provinces
- Integrating IT more completely into education.
Although the internet has been growing in e-government, business, social networks, etc., schools and teachers have still not learned the best way to utilize technology in the classroom. He sees the ministries as playing a significant role in encouraging these developments as well as preparing Vietnamese IT companies to compete on a global stage.
From the state company side, Nguyen Manh Hung, vice general director of Viettel Group, one of Vietnam’s leading telecoms, stated that Viettel wants to see every person in Vietnam with a smartphone, and every family with a 10Gbps broadband internet connection. Viettel has already been quite aggressive with uptake in schools, providing over 30,000 schools with internet connectivity. By 2015 their goal is to have fiber optic lines in every village in the country and by 2020 to equip 70 percent of all households with broadband internet. Other major telecoms companies, including VNPT, SCTV, and FPT, also share this aggressive sentiment and are implementing strategies of their own in their sectors.
My question is, will the major telecoms be able to deliver on these promises, and will the ministries safely guide Vietnam onto the global stage? Vu Hoang Lien, president of the Internet Association of Vietnam, warns that, “Only when the internet has been fully implemented in the countryside in large numbers can we truly be proud of internet growth in Vietnam”. He’s daunted by the task, adding, “There’s a lot of work going ahead to reach the countryside,” but most leaders are optimistic.
Most of the internet growth in Vietnam can be attributed to the major cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city, as well as the budding level-one cities like Da Nang, Can Tho, Nha Trang, and Hai Phong, whose internet penetration is well over 50 percent. The countryside is a considerably different problem and the population out there is the majority of the 60 million offline citizens that Dr. Truc is worried about.