In 2016, Viet Nam’s Prime Minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, approved a program to expand fixed broadband Internet coverage to at least 40% of households and individual subscribers in the country by 2020.
As the economy’s largest ISP and subsidiary of the incumbent operator, the Vietnam Data Communication Company (VDC) has been trusted with much of this network expansion.
“Being a state-owned service provider, VDC has always had an obligation to meet the demand of continually developing infrastructure to rural areas, as well as the critical services that go with it,” says Vu Hoang Lien, who served as the CEO of VDC between 1996 and 2010.
But this obligation as a leader in the industry has its challenges, says Lien. The biggest of which is how to remain competitive when other service providers don’t have to invest in such large-scale infrastructure projects.
“VDC is also required to adhere to price policy; it needs to continuously discount service costs to broaden development faster,” says Lien. “It’s something we’ve always had to accommodate while remaining profitable in what has been a really competitive market”, he says.
Profits, however, are not the main goal of VDC. Instead their goal is to improve service quality and support to their customers, in turn increasing customer growth and maintaining profitability. Complementing this is the close collaboration they have with other ISPs and regulatory authorities in the country, which share the aim of Internet development.
VDC is one of the four original ISPs that provided the first commercial connection to the Internet in Viet Nam in 1997. The organization was established in 1989 by the Department of General of Post and Telecommunication (now Ministry of Information and Communication) as a subsidiary of the Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group (VNPT), which spun off from the DGPT in 1990.
“The initial scope of VDC was to look at ways Internet technology could be used to replace traditional telecommunication, rather than a data transfer service,” says Lien, who was a telecommunication engineer at the time. Lien says this scope was born out of the State’s conservative approach towards the Internet, particularly the Internet’s potential for unregulated communication, a concern the Internet industry and media worked hard to address in order to establish Viet Nam’s ISPs.
“We had developed a network, and so too had the education and research community, well before we got licenses from the State,” says Lien. “It probably took us three to five years to work with the State for them to see the benefits that the information sharing component of the Internet would afford Viet Nam both economically and socially.
“In all honesty though, we did not imagine the extent of the impact the Internet would have on society,” he says.
Multistakeholder association aids with taking the Internet in Viet Nam to the world
Although the Government has come to embrace the Internet as a “useful environment facilitating technology, business, and social bonding activities” as well as “enhancing openness and transparency” it remains cautious of the breadth of information its citizens can obtain.
Lien says this cautious approach and the need to enhance Viet Nam’s Internet reputation as a reputable community were reasons why the Vietnam Internet Association (VIA) was established in 2010, which he has presided as Chairman of since its inception.
The VIA is self-governing and self-financed. It operates on a consensus model, with majority support and voluntary participation by its members – the five major ISPs.
“We have different associations to look after different utilities and economic services in Viet Nam,” explains Lien.
“Initially the Internet was considered as value-added services for telecommunications and as such was managed under the Vietnam Telecommunications Association (VTA). However, we’ve come to realize over time how it affects so many different components of society and that other associations, including those that oversee information safety (VNISA) and e-commerce (VECOM), are also dealing with it and as such needed an overarching association to facilitate discussion.”
Lien says that in its short time the VIA has achieved much, including developing a multistakeholder system to support other associations to be involved in Internet-related policy discussions.
From these discussions, the priority areas for the Internet in Viet Nam appear to be:
- Developing business opportunities in markets outside Viet Nam, including attracting venture capital for R&D support and start-ups
- Protecting copyright, intellectual property, and trademarks
- Improving quality of service
- Internet safety, including greater awareness of cybercrime and paraphernalia
- Expanding coverage to rural areas and islands
Lien says it’s encouraging that so many associations and business, including VDC, are working together to address these issues, as the community — by in large — recognize that collaboration is the most effective way forward.
“Ultimately, we all want to build on the Internet base we’ve all helped develop over the past 20 years and take it to the next level. To do this, we need a healthier, safer and more sustainable Internet, as these are the features that attract more business and will contribute to improving the quality of life in Viet Nam.”
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