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Vietnam cities eye free Wi-Fi for tourists but funds an issue

HANOI -- A number of cities in Vietnam have started to provide free Wi-Fi in an effort to promote tourism, but the question remains where the funds for this service will come from.

Last year, Hoi An in the central region became the first city in Vietnam and Asia to provide free Wi-Fi access across its town area.

The VND25 billion network has 350 transmitters that allow users fast internet access from anywhere in the town.

Ha Long City in northeastern Quang Ninh province decided to follow suit shortly afterwards, and the province plans to expand access to all its communes, towns and cities.

In June 2012, officials in central Thua Thien-Hue province approved a plan to invest at least 20 billion dong (almost US$1 million) on Wi-Fi access in the entire city of Hue, paid for by the Vietnam Data-communications Co who hopes to profit from the investment through value-added services.

Most recently, in early November 2012, the Information and Communications Department of northern Nam Dinh Province started the implementation of a project to build a public wireless network which should be completed by March 2013, providing Wi-Fi to public offices, schools and tourism destinations.

The project is expected to cost US$1 million and allow access for up to 20,000 users when the first phase is put into service.

An official from the Quang Nam provincial Information and Communications Department said at a recent conference that the problem they faced was how to earn enough money to maintain the network.

The department asked the Ministry of Information and Communications to provide 50 percent of the cost, but in reply, Information and Communications Minister Nguyen Bac Son said the ministry did not have the funds to pay for local networks.

Son stressed that it was unfeasible to provide free Wi-Fi to attract tourists because Vietnam was still poor. In other words, the local department needed to approach local businesses to find funding solutions.

Vu The Binh, general director of Netnam, said it would be a waste to provide free Wi-Fi if it was only used to surf the internet.

The use of e-government services should also be promoted to make it a viable proposition.

A senior executive from FPT Telcom said it would be unfeasible to fund Wi-Fi networks using the state budget.

He said it would be better to offer enterprises incentives to subsidies networks such as land use rights and preferential investment policies.

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