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Professor Beats Daunting Odds, Upheaval to Link Thailand to Internet

October 21, 2013

Olympic divers get extra points for taking on a tougher degree of difficulty. If that standard were applied to computer networking, Dr. Kanchana Kanchanasut, the modest professor whose efforts in the mid-1980s led to the connection of Thailand to the Internet, would be a gold medalist.

Over the past 81 years, the Thais have seen some 40 prime ministers or acting prime ministers serving with 60 different cabinets under 17 different constitutions. This frequent upheaval unavoidably had a negative effect on technological progress, as engineers and computer scientists could only watch and hope that their efforts would be given high priority and funded at appropriate levels. Through it all, Kanchana has never given up, pushing steadily to create and expand connectivity in her nation.

In 1991, Kanchana’s leadership resulted in Thailand’s first leased line with TCP/IP connection to the global network. “Back then,” she said recently, “there was no Ministry of Information and Communication Technology.  There was a project under the Ministry of Science to connect six universities using X.25.”   That meant that Kanchana’s team had to divert money from the same pool of funds that aided all scientific endeavors in the country towards the Internet development.

In those days, X.25 was a family of protocols used to access library catalogues in the US.  When she sent her first email from Thailand, in 1986, she did it using X.25. Kanchana recalls, “I used my university’s library account to do a remote log-in.”   After setting up proper electronic mail from her university, one day the President of  one of Thailand’s top universities – who was about to adopt X.25 – had visited the US and someone in the US demonstrated email to him by asking Kanchana to respond to their email immediately from her university in Thailand.

Upon his return, he said, ‘Email is what we need to do!’ So my colleague in Chulalongkorn University immediately proposed a TCP/TP connection to the US which became our first TCP/IP international connection,” Kanchana recalls.

The good news was: Networking of any kind was almost unknown in Thailand at the time, so IP was peacefully adopted. “There was no ‘Protocol War’ between X.25 and IP such as the one between IP and OSI that Europe had endured,” Kanchana notes.

When Thailand’s Ministry of ICT was finally established in 2002, the government was very progressive technologically. That freed up funding; as a result, Internet penetration has improved greatly.

In 1988, just two years after sending her first email, Kanchana achieved another technological milestone: She registered the .TH country-code top-level domain for Thailand. Again, the challenge of limited resources didn’t stop her. While still a junior lecturer at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), she hatched a plan to redirect the AIT president’s direct line – the only one at the Institute – to her own phone after hours every day when he left his office. And for almost a year, she used that line to operate the top-level domain name through her own office, connecting Thai academic colleagues all through the night. She has been the .TH administrator ever since.

To a large degree, it was her own upbringing that has given her the motivation to work through all the difficulties she’s faced in connecting Thailand to the Internet.   

“Being raised in a remote town with limited communication made me appreciate what the Internet could offer people. That appreciation gave me the strength, inspiration and determination to endure,” she says. She also credits her late parents, who placed a high value on their children’s education. She feels that her education – and her resulting career – have justified the sacrifices they made for her.

Thousands of people, whether in the major cities or the most remote areas of Thailand, would certainly agree.

Learn more about Kanchana's workand view her acceptance speech

 

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