Free internet access for poor

Free internet access for poor

Welfare recipients to be given SIM cards

A tuk-tuk driver checks his mobile phone while waiting for passengers. Internet access is expected to be able to help the disenfranchised access government services and further opportunities.
A tuk-tuk driver checks his mobile phone while waiting for passengers. Internet access is expected to be able to help the disenfranchised access government services and further opportunities.

The Finance Ministry plans to give internet SIM cards to the government's welfare recipients to allow them to access free internet, provided by TOT.

The SIM cards will only allow users access to free internet, and are blocked from making phone calls, said Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong. The government will cover the cost.

The ministry already discussed the issue with TOT, he said without providing further details.

The internet SIM cards are expected to be part of the second phase of the government's welfare and subsidy scheme for the poor, which is set to be announced next month.

Rungsan Channarukul, TOT's senior executive vice-president for wireless business, said the details have not been settled as they require further discussion with the government.

The government may buy wholesale network capacity from TOT at the real cost.

He said each SIM will have fixed megabytes available to users but the quantity has yet to be decided. Enhancing employment opportunities is a cornerstone of the second phase of the scheme to help welfare recipients escape the poverty line, which is set at 100,000 baht in annual income.

Apart from employment, providing education to the scheme's recipients is expected to help those at the bottom end of the income scale.

Permanent secretary for finance Somchai Sujjapongse recently said he has instructed the Fiscal Policy Office to look at packages that will help the poor access financial sources, education, employment and other basic needs.

On Aug 29, the cabinet approved a new aid package worth 41.94 billion baht for low-income earners. The package will provide for 11.7 million low-income earners approved by the state agency.

Under the scheme, the government transfers 200-300 baht a month to each welfare smart card. Recipients earning under 30,000 baht a year get a monthly allowance of 300 baht and those with annual earnings of 30,000 to 100,000 baht receive 200 baht to buy low-priced consumer products at Thong Fah Pracha Rat shops and other designated stores.

Each cardholder also receives 1,500 baht each month to subsidise transport, and 500 baht for inter-provincial public buses, third-class trains, and local public buses and electric trains.

In related news, Ekniti Nitithanprapas, director-general of the State Enterprise Policy Office (Sepo), said state enterprises' income contribution to the government was 25% higher than targeted in October. State enterprises contributed 34.5 billion baht to the government coffers in October.

Sepo will let state enterprises adopt information technology to raise their operating performance to the office's target of 137 billion baht in income for the government this fiscal year.

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