ITU and the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) of Thailand have established more than 20 rural Internet centres nationwide.
The centres, located in 16 provinces across the country, strengthen information and communication technology (ICT) skills among students, youth and local communities, and are helping to promote social and economic development in some of the most remote areas of the country.
While global connectivity is rapidly expanding and empowering billions of individuals around the world, ITU data shows that more than half of the global population remain cut off from the vast resources available on the Internet. Access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) can help facilitate the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially in rural areas.
Access to the Internet allows citizens to access basic services such as education and health care and is helping to lift people out of poverty through e-commerce and job growth. Nowhere else is this more pertinent than in rural and remote areas.
NBTC-ITU Volunteers programme
Between 2014 and 2015, ITU and NBTC established a network of ICT volunteers for Internet centres in remote areas of the country to reach out to local communities and provide them with Internet access. They are run by a group of volunteers known as NBTC-ITU Volunteers.
The project has seen the establishment of 21 rural Internet centres – known as USONETs – nationwide, each equipped with at least 10 computers connected to the Internet.
At the centres, students, youth and members of the local community are trained on how to use computers and are given courses for basic digital literacy needed to access information online.
Students have found the centres particularly useful as they are now able to do online research to widen their knowledge of various subjects taught in school. They have also been able to transfer the computer and Internet knowledge they have gained back to their families and communities allowing them to use e-commerce platforms to do business and thus expand their family incomes.
The centres have brought digital teaching solutions and have helped young people to acquire ICT Skills, which are essential for people entering the workforce and for those trying to find a better job.
"The computer and the Internet are very important for students, says Pornchai Nachaiwiang, Principal of Ban Pang Kae School in Nan, northern Thailand. "Students have also been able to transfer the computer and Internet knowledge they have gained back to their families and communities and some are now able to use e-commerce platforms to buy and sell products."
At the community level, the Internet centers have also opened new opportunities for the local community to access information and services, especially crucial and potentially life-saving health information.
Boonyuen Pittayakannurut, a resident of the northern city of Chiang Mai, has also benefitted from better Internet access. "I have been able to research on how to protect my family against Dengue fever," he says. "I have also shared the information I gathered with my neighbours and friends, many of whom did not know what measures to take against the disease."
In addition, local business can expect to see increased productivity and effectiveness through improved access to market information. The USONET centres will also go a long way in reducing inequality by helping to bring information and knowledge to rural populations and disadvantaged groups such as persons with disabilities and women and girls.
WATCH: Find out how rural Internet centres are empowering people across Thailand