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Internet Use Shaping Cambodia

Categories: East Asia, Cambodia, Development, Digital Activism, Economics & Business, Freedom of Speech, Technology, Youth

With more than 50% of the population of almost 15 million people younger than 25, the future of Cambodia's internet as well as the youth lifestyle looks vibrant.

Thousands of people – Internet users, IT professionals, computer enthusiasts and bloggers will gather at an event taking place at Raffles Hotel Le Royal, the premier hotel in the Cambodian capital on 19th and 20th May. In cooperation with Mobile Phone Magazine, Internet solution provider Manich Enterprise expects to host about 5000 attendees for an exhibition on all things Information Technology. The exhibition is called ‘Internet Party [1] and this is the second time the event is being organised. The organizers are offering participants some exciting and entertaining sessions including an Internet Queen contest. Like previous year [2], vibrant Phnom Penhers [3] are hoping to enjoy the social networking event.

In schools, talking about the latest mobile phone [4], fashion, or even car is a now a trend. The excitement is not because they are catching up with the rest of the world but they are glad to embrace and use what they can afford. Many Phnom Penh residents know too well that they were left behind some other nations in the region in terms of living a trendy life. However, after the rapid change in last couple of years, globalization and the nation's free market has made its effect felt, particularly among those who are living in the urban areas.

Some years earlier, doing business in IT sector was a challenge due to small consumer market and low demand etc. In 1997 when the Internet just arrived [5] in Cambodia, sending a message cost $0.15 per kilobyte(about 150 characters of text). It cost a news reporter US$160 to receive an email with a 400K graphic file attachment from his friend at that time.

In early 2003, the Asia Foundation partnered with USAID and Microsoft and established a network of Community Information Centers [6] in 22 provinces and municipalities across Cambodia. The Internet-enabled Information Centers across the country provided greater access to news and information for provincial citizens. And that led to the first-ever blogging training [7] in some provinces of this small South East Asian nation.

introduction to blogging
A practice session after an Introduction to Blogging workshop at a computer lab of Pannasastra University of Cambodia. Image from Chantra's Flickr [8].

Following the first large-scale effort to bridge the digital divide through the establishment of Community Information Centres, on April 24, GTZ (the German Technical Cooperation) working in collaboration with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the German software firm net-Com AG and the Royal Government of Cambodia launched two Khmer-language web sites. The sites provide business information on Siem Reap [9], the country's most popular tourist destination and Battambang [10], the second-largest city of Cambodia. The sites also hope to offer local citizens useful information on the work and organisation of the district administration. Other offering is the One Window Service Office that includes services like fees, processing times, downloadable forms, etc. The site also serve as a source of information for local and foreign visitors and investors. Local businessmen can advertise on the site to increase visibility and to develop new clients.

Several key players are creating new markets with the support of government agencies. In April, Phnom Penh hosted the Digital & Electronics World Expo 2007 [11]. This event was supported by the Office of the Council of Ministers, Ministry of Posts and Telecommunication, Ministry of Commerce Phnom Penh, Municipality of Phnom Penh, and Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports of Cambodia. The three-day [12] event saw resellers, distributors, and dealers of big-names brads promoting their products to a large number of potential users.

Last year the country also saw the arrival of WiMAX [13], a broadband wireless service. Media Ring, a Singapore-based VoIP company, officially launched its Angkor Net ISP in Cambodia. Angkor Net is the first ISP in the country to offer WiMAX wireless broadband services. WIMAX allows the new-startup Internet Service Provider to offer broadband internet speeds without installing telecoms infrastructure.

In many Phnom Penh Internet caf├ęs one can find foreign tourists behind flat screen monitors and sitting next to them are Cambodian university students spending half a dollar for an hour for the net access. The next big thing for many Phnom Penhers is probably accessing internet at home.

As part of its Information and Communication Technologies policy, the Cambodian government hopes to embrace and exploit ICTs to increase the quality of peoples’ lives and also to fight poverty, disease and illiteracy in the country.