In the early 1990s, Norbert Klein was the Internet in Cambodia.
“To send e-mails, users had to call my phone and connect to modem,” he explained to Lift. Despite the relatively high price for these transactions – US$5 a minute – Klein says that his phone was ringing off the hook with people wanting to send messages abroad.
Fifteen years later the Internet has evolved into a central source for entertainment and information for much of Cambodia’s upper and middle classes. These changes began with the entrance of the first Internet Service Providers (ISPs), Big Pond and CamNet, into Cambodia, allowing a small group of people to access the Internet at a few cafés around the city.
The turn of the millennium gave further rise to Internet use and the number of Internet cafés and private users continued to expand during the decade that followed.
Now, after more than a decade of widespread reliance on third-party locations for Internet use, there is a growing number of people who have direct access to the Web through home connections or mobile phones and PDAs.
“There will be more wireless Internet connection.… It will be growing,” predicted Klein. Not only does this shift spell disaster for the owners of increasingly obsolete Internet café’s, according to Klein, it also means that the number of Internet users, and the amount of time they spend on the net will rise faster than ever.
Besides making the Internet more accessible to people in Phnom Penh, this shift to wireless service might also be the answer to connecting the countryside to the Web.
Despite the existence of more than 30 Internet Service Providers in Cambodia today, Internet in the provinces is still limited, which in turn slows the progress of education and communication for the people living there.
Klein said that Internet service in Cambodia is quite expensive compared with other countries, which has slowed its growth. In some developed countries users can get unlimited speed and broadband for $20 a month, however, “in Cambodia the cheapest is about US$30, but limited volume and limited speed”, he told Lift.
According to Sok Channda, chief executive officer of AngkorNet, pricey technology is also preventing companies from extending Internet service to the provinces.
“We have to use Card Optic to reach the provinces, which is expensive, so many people do not have the opportunity to use the Internet,” Sok Channda said.
She predicted that with the rapid expansion of ISPs, there will be a drop in the price of high-speed Internet access. Wireless Internet also avoids much of the infrastructure required to connect people through.
A reduction in prices will make the Internet affordable to a larger population within Cambodia, which will in turn encourage companies to drop the price even lower.
Sok Channda estimates that there are 100,000 Internet users in Cambodia today, which accounts for less than 1 percent of the population. However, that number will expand exponentially in the coming years.
While the Internet may be a relatively new technology, it is an essential step in integrating Cambodia into global marketplaces for both goods and ideas.
Without it Cambodians will surely be left behind. LIFT