Cambodia still has the second-highest Internet costs in ASEAN, one of numerous factors that continue to slow growth in connectivity rates, according to ISPs and the development community.
A computer user surfs the Web Monday at CSC Net Internet cafe in Phnom Penh.
ALACK of government policy, local-language content, infrastructure as well as high prices remain the biggest constraints on faster development of the Internet in Cambodia, private-sector entities and development agencies told the Post.
Cambodia currently has just 18,000 Internet subscribers, said internet service provider (ISP) EZECOM, the second-lowest density in the ASEAN region, according to a new report on Cambodia's economic competitiveness released on Monday by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
Among the biggest barriers to development was price, the private sector said. The Kingdom's many ISPs - more than 35 - must pay Telecom Cambodia for the use of fixed lines, costs which mean Cambodia is ranked the second-most expensive ASEAN country for Internet use, said UNDP.
"We pay US$13 [per subscriber] to Telecom Cambodia (TC) ... each month," said Sok Channda, CEO of AngkorNet.
Paul Blanche-Horgan, CEO of EZECOM, agreed that a major factor pushing up prices for consumers was the cost of using state infrastructure.
"The main challenge is bandwidth costs," he said.
Ken Chanthan, president of the ICT Association of Cambodia, said that undeveloped domestic infrastructure was also pushing costs up.
"A lack of local Internet exchange bandwidth results in high Internet prices because internal data transfer needs to be routed out, and back
into, the country," he said.
Sector sources said that part of the battle to gain subscribers lies in content, and particularly developing local content in the Khmer language.
"Localised Internet content is very important to attract more subscribers and users because it can help them gain more benefits from the Internet," said Ken Chanthan. "People can find out prices of market products, improve their means of communication, cut operational costs and market products on the Net."
Sok Channda agreed, adding that households had little reason to subscribe to costly Internet services for what were essentially basic functions such as email and chat. Most of AngkorNet's 1,000 subscribers are commercial organisations or aid agencies, she added, with growth of around 10 percent per month.
Still, infrastructure is improving with more cost-effective options becoming available, sources said.
The country's infrastructure backbone is being expanded to provide better links to the Greater Mekong Sub-region, which includes a fibre-optic cable connection to Laos. The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications was unavailable Monday to give an update on progress in developing Internet infrastructure.
Some companies said they were looking to bypass TC in a bid to lower costs and boost subscriber numbers.
"We hope to receive an additional 35,000 subscribers after we launch a special home-package price for students and households ... a high growth rate after we launch Wimax technology - maybe in the next two months - which is cheaper, as we don't need to pay Telecom Cambodia," said Sok Channda of Angkor Net's plans to use wireless satellite technology to build provincial-level connectivity.
EZECOM said it would open a new Siem Reap office soon to cover all the main areas of the country by the end of the year.
Blanche-Horgan noted that ISPs were looking to be among a handful of industries that would expand during the recent economic downturn, predicting a total of 50,000 Internet subscribers by the end of next year, a near-threefold increase on current numbers.