Thailand wants to give free SIM cards to low income earners

Free SIM cards to low-income earners is on the table in Thailand

The Finance Ministry intends to offer free SIM cards and subsidize their monthly fees for registered low-income earners in the second phase of its aid program for the needy in Thailand

Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong said it was proposed 5 months ago that 14.5 million welfare-card holders be given free mobile SIMs to be able to use the internet to enhance their knowledge and skills, so they can eventually live above the poverty threshold.

But the telecom regulator NBTC, which would have to find the financing through the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USO), was still considering the idea. Minister Apisak said the scheme should be run as a trial for 6 months first, pending Cabinet approval, and state-owned TOT would be responsible for providing the service.

However the scheme was actually suggested more than a year ago.

Bangkok Post | 16 November 2017 | Free internet access for poor

Since October 2017, the government has offered monthly subsidies for consumer products and public transport to 11.67 mio low-incomers at an estimated cost of THB 41.9 billion a year.

Like the THB 200 or 300 credit for grocery shopping and THB 500 or 1,500 for transport under the social welfare scheme, each SIM card will have a limitation on megabytes available for use.

In a digital society – all wheels need to be spinning

As Thailand transitions toward a digital society it is important to get ALL on-board. Mobile internet access is key to promote social development, access to public/private services, raise productivity and skills sets.

Similar programs have already been running in Africa, EU, and in the US via MVNOs.

Why MVNO are the preferred choice for these programs

Because of their smaller scale and high flexibility, MVNOs are more adaptive than their traditional infrastructure counterparts for this kind of service.

Programs like these requires service providers to provide an adequate service to a less profitable segment of the market. Normal mobile operators are more interested in the most profitable customers, and this has historically been the opportunity that MVNO’s have seized. MVNO’s operate on lower overheads and a niche strategy, and are therefore perfectly aligned with these programs.

In example, with its efforts to ease the burden on households, the South Korean government has been promoting sales of SIMs and budget smartphones sold by MVNOs, where the government is subsidizing the airtime from the MVNOs to low-income users.

Since 1985, the Lifeline program in the US has provided a discount on phone service for qualifying low-income consumers to ensure that all Americans have the opportunities and security that phone service brings, including being able to connect to jobs, family and emergency services.

Lifeline is part of the Universal Service Fund. The Lifeline program is available to eligible low-income consumers in every state, territory, commonwealth, and on Tribal lands.

The LifeLine program is a state and federal program benefit of $9.25/month toward phone/internet service. Its aim is to make communications services more affordable for low-income citizens and provide access to emergency services, find/keep a job, and stay connected with loved ones.

About LifeLine Subscribers

There are 10.3M LifeLine subscribers (Approx. 27% of eligible households participate)

The subscribers meets the income requirement (135% or below the federal poverty guideline), or participates in a qualifying federal assistance program with 68% of subscribers qualifying through SNAP or Medicaid.

Author: Allan Rasmussen
Managing director at Yozzo. Allan is a MVNA/MVNE/MVNO specialist with hands-on experience from more than 60 projects in both competitive and greenfield markets. His expertise includes business case development, execution, launch and growth strategies. Advisor and consultant to mobile network operators, MVNA, MVNE, MVNO, National Regulatory Authorities, Government Agencies, Broadcast Companies, TMT Industry Associations, Innovation and Investment Banks.

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