COMMUNICATIONS IN VIETNAM: THE INTERNET, TELEPHONES, COMPUTERS AND CELL PHONES

TELECOMMUNICATIONS AND TELEPHONES IN VIETNAM

The International Telecommunication Union rates Vietnam’s telecommunications market the second fastest growing in the world after China. With rapid telecommunications growth leading to 4.9 million landline telephones and 3.4 million mobile telephones as of mid-2004, Vietnam’s telephone penetration rate is still only 10 percent. [Source: CIA World Factbook **]

Phone service is not great but is better than it used to be. Many people don’t have land-line phones. Local calls are best made from a hotel or guesthouse with the help of a Vietnamese person or from a post office, phone office, home, or business. Many cities and towns have kiosks and curbside desks were local and international calls can be made. Cell phones are becoming more widespread in Vietnam. They can be rented in some places. In rural areas the cell phone reception is often only good if you climb a hill. In remote areas calls are often made through satellite phones or radio relay systems.

In the 1990s there were only one television per 31 people, one radio per 10 people, and one telephone per 544 people in Vietnam. Now cell phones and electronics are everywhere. The Los Angeles Times described Phan An, a 26-year-old freelance IT consultant who grew up with five siblings in Danang without electricity or running water. They took baths in flooded rice fields and read by oil lamp, sleeping with the rest of the family in a single room and walking three miles to school. Nowadays Phan sits at his computer listening to digital music files in a building on land that was a field a few years back. The two-room apartment he shares with a friend is stuffed with a fan, washing machine (equipped with "Fuzzy Logic 6.4"), flat-screen television, Sanyo refrigerator and electric guitar. [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, June 05, 2010]

Telephones - main lines in use: 10.175 million (2011), country comparison to the world: 21. Telephones - mobile cellular: 127.318 million (2011), country comparison to the world: 8. Telephone system: Vietnam is putting considerable effort into modernization and expansion of its telecommunication system. All provincial exchanges are digitalized and connected to Hanoi, Da Nang, and Ho Chi Minh City by fiber-optic cable or microwave radio relay networks. Main lines have been increased, and the use of mobile telephones is growing rapidly. As for international connections, Vietnam is a landing point for the SEA-ME-WE-3, the C2C, and Thailand-Vietnam-Hong Kong submarine cable systems. The Asia-America Gateway submarine cable system, completed in 2009, provided new access links to Asia and the US. Satellite earth stations: two Intersputnik (Indian Ocean region) (2011).

In 2013, Andrew Lam wrote in the Huffington Post, "Before the U.S. embargo was lifted in 1994 and travel was allowed between the United States and Vietnam, a letter or care package sent from America would take up to six months to arrive in Vietnam. Back then, my mother and I would roll $20 bills into tight, compact sticks smaller than cigarettes and hide them in tubes of tooth paste, which we would then send home along with other goods to help our relatives survive. No more. These days, Vietnam has a 7 percent annual growth rate and a growing middle class. Vietnamese can shop in newly built supermarkets, money is easily wired and e-mails zip back and forth as if the ocean doesn't exist. While I was in Vietnam, a cousin in Hanoi insisted that I rent a cell phone. For about a dollar, he said, we could be in contact every day. Never mind that we hadn't been in touch for almost a decade. Now that I was here, somehow we needed to stay constantly connected. [Source: Andrew Lam, Huffington Post, January 6, 2013 /~/]

See Tourist Information

In 2003, there were 9.3 million telephone subscribers in a nation of 82 million. In 2000, urban households with a telephone; 36 percent. An Executive Survey of 60 countries in 1995 ranked No. 1 as having the fewest telephones per capita. According to that survey: countries with fewest telephone lines (people per telephone): 1) Vietnam (95); 2) India (77); 3) Zimbabwe (71); 4) Indonesia (59); 5) Philippines (48); 6) Nicaragua (43); 7) Guatemala (37); 8) Honduras (35); 9) China (30); 10) Egypt (22).

In the early 2000s Vietnam had the highest telephone rates in Asia. Sending a fax to U.S. cost $5 a page.

See Separate Articles on Television, the Media and the Internet.

Love Problems, Need an Answer to a Tough Question: In Vietnam Dial 411

Margie Mason of Associated Press wrote: " What’s the best way to sue my neighbor ? How big is Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum ? Is surgery necessary to remove a bunion ? Am I pregnant ? For answers to these questions, call 1080. Directory assistance in communist Vietnam goes a lot further than America’s 411. It’s a combination of a lonely hearts column, Dr. Ruth and general information service, with a force of female operators ready to take on just about anything, 24/7. In a country where information — including the Internet and media — is tightly controlled by the government, the service fills a big gap. [Source: Margie Mason, Associated Press, October 25, 2004 <<>>]

"The service started in 1992 in Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon, as a way for the Communist Party to explain social and economic policies. More than a decade later, exchanges in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City alone field 75,000 calls a day asking for everything from college exam scores and soccer results to advice on finding love. "One day I got a call from a man who said that two people were quarreling on Hang Bong street," said Tran Hong Ha, 30, an operator in Hanoi for 10 years. "That old man asked me to come there immediately because they were quarreling with each other very fiercely and he hoped that with my sweet voice, I could help..." A sweet, clear voice is a must, along with a good education. Those selected then undergo intensive training on how to answer questions quickly and cheerfully. <<>>

In Hanoi, about 40 women in matching blue smocks and headphones sit side-by-side in a crowded room filled with shelves and cabinets of reference books and files. They chat and type furiously on computers at their desks, and each sits before a large mirror."If they have a bad temper, they can look at themselves in the mirror and change their attitudes," said Bui Minh Chau, director of Hanoi’s 1080 service. "It’s very stressful. Sometimes the operators get shouted and screamed at by the client." <<>>

The job pays about $65 a month — par for the Vietnamese civil service — and isn’t taken lightly. The army of operators have become final arbiters of many a dispute or barroom argument. (Ho’s mausoleum? 10,344 square feet). "Over the years, we have gained prestige among our clients for our accurate information," said Nguyen Xuan Phuoc, deputy director of Hanoi Telephone Company. "Some people, when they’re in groups or discussions, if there’s some topic they do not know or do not understand, many of them will agree to go to our service asking for the answers." <<>>

The service has become so popular in Hanoi that more than 80 phone trees have been added to provide recorded answers about flight schedules and other tourist information.Doctors and lawyers dole out medical and legal advice, and psychologists tackle thorny questions most Vietnamese wouldn’t dare ask in public. They can be reached during business hours by calling one of the automated numbers and selecting from a list of experts. <<>>

"Sex is a big issue. In a country where it’s never discussed openly in schools or homes, operators provide a confidential alternative. They also advise on marriage, pregnancy and drug addiction. Those contemplating suicide also turn to them. Callers don’t have to give names and their questions remain secret. "That’s why many of the clients consider us a very reliable friend," Phuoc said. They also can order songs to be sent over the phone for special occasions. The 10,000 on offer include everything from Elvis Presley’s "Viva Las Vegas" to Britney Spears’ "... Baby One More Time." And it costs just 6 cents for the first minute and 2 cents for each additional minute. Each city and province has a 1080 offering various levels of service, and it’s become so popular in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City that busy signals and long waits are common. The No. 1 request ? It’s still telephone numbers. <<>>

Cell Phones in Vietnam

According to TechniAsia, there were 145 cell phones for 100 people in Vietnam in 2012. "For a country whose population is just over 90 million, that amounts to more than 130 million mobile phones," it notes. Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group (VNPT) is Vietnam’s largest telecom provider. FPT is Vietnam’s largest listed telecom and software company. It has a cloud computing deal with Microsoft.

For years Vietnam has been a major producer and exporter of cheap cell phones. In 2010, it reportedly exported $2.3 billion worth of phone sets. Two years later, that figure jumped dramatically to $8.63 billion, up 122 percent from a year earlier. Now, phones are available in Vietnam for as little as $20.

In 2013, Andrew Lam wrote in the Huffington Post, "A few years ago in the outskirts of Hanoi, I watched as a well-dressed, middle-aged woman burned paper offerings to her dead husband. Along with traditional mock gold bars and horses, one item stood out: a paper cell phone. "Why are you burning a paper cell phone?" I asked. "So that in the spirit world he can have everything that we have now," she answered matter-of-factly. [Source: Andrew Lam, Huffington Post, January 6, 2013 /~/]

"And buyers aren’t limited to the middle class. Everyone has them, from elementary school kids to impoverished pedicab drivers. Teenagers have them, too, of course. On motorcycles, Vietnamese chat on their mobiles while weaving dangerously through traffic with one hand on the handlebar. They don't even turn them off in movie theaters. In cafes, at restaurants, they have a rude habit of talking to you while looking down to check and send messages.[Source: Andrew Lam, New American Media, January 24, 2013]

"These days, the insidious cell phone has invaded even the most sacred space in Vietnam -- the Buddhist temple. I went to one such temple to immerse myself in quiet meditation and incense smoke when, suddenly, the muffled theme of Star Wars chimed from a young monk's saffron robe nearby. Buddha smiled down benevolently on us all, but the abbot wasn't pleased. /~/

Cell Phones as Status Symbols in Vietnam

Andrew Lam wrote in the Huffington Post, "A car and a laptop are the lyrical symbols of the American Dream, but for the Vietnamese they remain impossible luxury items. Not the cell phone. In Vietnam, cell phones are so plentiful that vendors sell them on sidewalks. Teenagers have them. On motorcycles, Vietnamese chat with one hand on the handlebars and weave dangerously. In cafes, they have a rude habit of talking to you while checking and sending messages on their cells. They don't even turn them off in movie theaters. Or try this classic, modern-day image of Saigon: a husband and wife riding on a motorcycle down a tree-lined boulevard on a Sunday morning. He's in a black suit, driving while talking on his cell; she, in a traditional ao dai dress, holds onto his waist with one arm and chats on her cell with the other. [Source: Andrew Lam, Huffington Post, January 6, 2013 /|\]

"Vietnam came out of the Cold War and ran smack into the Information Age. To own the latest communication technology, therefore, is a must, a status symbol that many urbanized Vietnamese can't do without. Internet cafes in every city are full, fax machines twitter in every office, and the ringing of cell phones never seems to stop. It's a paradox -- in a country known for its lack of freedom of expression, where political dissidents are routinely arrested, people can't seem to keep their mouths shut. And its effects on the government is a country full of people who could text images of political protest and arrests at any given time, despite the state controlled media. /|\

For Vietnamese, the latest cell phone is ultimately more than a status symbol. Vietnamese are clannish, and for many, the family and extended family are all the social network they will ever have. Connecting to one another is more than just a fad -- it's a cultural imperative. Bonds are never to be broken and relationships are to be built upon continuously. The cell phone facilitates that task quite well. And the latest model must be seen. At dining events it's a habit of Vietnamese to take out the cell phones and place it on the table so every one else can see it -- which leads to some materialistic soul to be under the pressure to buy a new one every few months or so. /|\

I once read in a newspaper in Hanoi about a popular young medium who talks to the dead. How does she reach them? You guessed it -- she calls them on her cell. No one else hears the dead but her, of course. But if her phone really does connect with the spirit world, I must say I find it regrettable. After all the stresses they suffered in life, the dead deserve some peace and quiet. With the new technology and the Vietnamese impulse to stay connected, however, they may be out of luck. /|\

Vietnamese Government and the Cell Phone Revolution

Andrew Lam wrote in the New American Media, " Vietnam, a police state where freedom of expression can come with a multi-year prison term, is awash in cell phones. Whether for talking, texting or taking photos, Vietnamese are buying up mobile devices at a rate exceeding the country’s own population. A sign of the communist nation’s rising affluence, it is also undermining the state’s monopoly on information. For the government in Hanoi, which maintains a vigorous Internet firewall similar to the one in Beijing, it’s a troubling trend. [Source: Andrew Lam, New American Media, January 24, 2013 ^*^]

"Because beyond the daily chitchat, Vietnamese are increasingly using their hand held devices to document and share scenes that authorities would prefer remain out of the public spotlight. Police wrongdoings are routinely reported, tweeted and shared online. Protests against police corruption and government land confiscation, and even against China’s expansionism in the South China Sea, are now organized by cell phones. ^*^

"A case in point: The world-renowned venerable monk Thich Nhat Hanh, long exiled in France, was given permission to visit his homeland in 2005 and he decided to build a monastery. Called Bat Nha in Lam Dong province, the monastery grew quickly in fame and many young people flocked to it. But the enthusiasm threatened local authorities, who feared a Vietnamese Falun Gong-style movement. The result was a government-sponsored mob attack in October 2009 that resulted in the injuries and arrests of monks and nuns, and eventually the demolition of the newly built temple and dormitories. ^*^

"While mainstream news in Vietnam carried little information regarding the event, it was the cell phone that carried the day: Witnesses texted information and sent images of arrests and the demolition of the monastery. The story spread around the world. Vietnam came out of the Cold War and ran fast and furious into the information age. Once upon a time, owning a fax machine could get you arrested. When it came to information manipulation and control, the communist regime once ran an impeccable machine." ^*^

Cellphones and Business in Vietnam

Malcolm Foster of Associated Press wrote: “Nguyen Huu Truc's trusty cellphone has revolutionized his small embroidery business — and his life. When he bought his first mobile phone in 1995, Vietnam had just one fixed-line phone for every 100 people, and cellphones were a pricey novelty. Communication was difficult, forcing Truc to make time-consuming trips to suppliers and buyers. [Source: Malcolm Foster, Associated Press, January 29, 2007 ^/^]

“But these days, Vietnam has 33 telephones per 100 people — and two-thirds of the phones are mobile. Now Truc can make calls on his cellphone from virtually anywhere in the country for about 10 cents a minute, saving him time and money and providing quicker access to information. "I cannot imagine what it would be like if I didn't have my mobile phone for a day," he says. "It's no longer just something that only the rich can afford. Now, it's a basic means of communication." Truc's experience provides a glimpse into how wireless communication is helping fuel Vietnam's rapid growth — and transforming dozens of other developing nations from the ground up. ^/^

“In Vietnam, where the economy is growing 8 percent a year, the communist government has spent heavily to expand coverage to all 64 provinces. "The more people who have cellphones, the more the economy will grow, and vice versa," says Bui Quoc Viet, a spokesman for the state-run Vietnam Post & Telecommunications, the country's largest telecom company. The government has also promoted competition: Vietnam now has six mobile carriers, two with foreign partners. The development has driven down service charges, a key factor in the tripling of cellphone subscribers over the past two years to 18 million. Mobile phones provide a good way for the younger generation to seek new business opportunities and cash in on Vietnam's move toward a market economy, says Paul Ruppert, managing director of consultancy Global Point View LLC, who has extensive experience in Asia. "It's all micro-activity — tailors, small repair shops, textile producers, grocery stores," Ruppert says. "Even though they're small, they're allowed to get an idea of the market via the cellphone." Text messaging, or SMS, is another application that's particularly popular in Asian nations like Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines. It's considered a cheap, unobtrusive way to stay in touch with friends, connect to the Internet and conduct business. ^/^

"It's a good way to save costs, but more importantly I can use SMS services as evidence for my business transactions," says Truc, the embroidery business owner. Carriers have adapted to the needs of poorer customers by selling prepaid airtime cards, often for as little as 35 cents per card. This eliminates the need for a contract, credit history check or even an address. Once you register for a phone number and buy an airtime card, you're in business. Handset makers, meanwhile, are offering ultra-cheap phones. Motorola, under the GSM Association's emerging market handset program, has produced cellphones with a wholesale price of less than $30. Retail prices vary depending on taxes and local market conditions. But even those phones are still too expensive for many who live on one or two dollars a day. That's given rise to communal phone use and a cottage industry made up of people who resell phone service for a living.” ^/^

Mobile World and E-Commerce

Describing the Internet activities of the cell phone retailer Mobile World, John Ruwitch and Jason Szep of Reuters wrote: “Perhaps not surprisingly, Nguyen Duc Tai, the chief of fast-growing Mobile World, does not fear foreign competition. But he's using technology and exploiting the Internet to keep his position safe. Before setting up his company with four friends, he knew he had to solve the problem that vexed him while trying to buy a phone for his wife. Consumers need good information, he reasoned, so before opening his first store he set up a website detailing the prices and specs of phones he would sell. [Source: John Ruwitch and Jason Szep, Reuters, January 13, 2011 <>]

It was the first of its kind on Vietnam and a hit. But that led to another problem: how to keep prices the same on his website and in his growing network of shops, especially in a market prone to surges in demand and currency fluctuations. His solution: digital price tags that are centrally updated twice a day and linked to the website. That paved the way for a primitive e-commerce system in which customers buy goods by inputting their phone number. Within 30 minutes, a Mobile World official calls, takes the order and sends a courier on a motorbike to deliver the phone and collect the money. The website generates about $1 million a month, enough to make Mobile World Vietnam's biggest player in e-commerce, an industry in its infancy in a country where most people do not have credit cards and use cash for almost every transaction. "This is a good weapon for us to compete with other retailers," said Tai, leaning forward in a chair in one of his shops.

Another weapon is Dinh Anh Huan, his business development director, who travels once a month to China to study how companies there operate. "In Vietnam, the culture and the economy are very similar to China's. So every month I go to China. I go to the stores. I see the suppliers, the manufacturers, I go to their factories. I buy the products. I watch and study. I go back home and every day I study Mandarin," he said, referring to the main Chinese dialect. In the northern capital of Hanoi, Dao The Vinh also has a taste for China.

Computers and Computer-Related Businesses in Vietnam

In 2000 Vietnam had about 600,000 personal computers, or 7.35 for 1,000 people. The same year it was estimated that six percent of urban households had a computer. Obviously the figure is much higher now. The number of computers in Viet Nam reached 5.9 million, according to the ICT White Book released by the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) in 2012. In the past decade and a half Computer-related schools have opened up everywhere. Because relatively few Vietnamese have their own personal computer many still access the Internet and use computers at Internet cafes.

Vietnam is trying to establish itself as a source of computer programming and animation work for foreign companies. Vietnam has many good programmers. They charge less than programmers in India and China. A programmer in Vietnam costs a foreign company about $20,000 (of which a programmer gets about $6,000 a year) per head, compared to $30,000 per head in Russia and Romania and $40,000 in India. Among the companies that have hired Saigon-based Quantic Software are Nortel Networks, Japan’s NTT Corp and Cisco Systems. Other blue chip companies that have done outsourcing in Vietnam are IBM, Helwett-Packard, Merril-Lynch, Sony and Fuji.

As of 2002, there were 250 domestic and foreign-owned software companies in Vietnam, up from only a handful a few years before that. Some of the major players in IT businesses in Vietnam are Vietnamese-Americans who have returned to Vietnam to start up new companies.

Vietnam and Software Piracy

Partly because of lax government enforcement, Vietnam has one the highest rates of software piracy in the world. According to a Business Software Alliance and International Data Corp. study of 70 countries in 2005: Countries with the highest rates of software piracy (pirated software as a percentage of software sold): 1) Vietnam (92 percent); 2) Ukraine (91 percent); 3) China (90 percent); 4) and 5) Indonesia and Russia (87 percent); 6) Kazakhstan (85 percent); 7) Serbia-Montenegro (81 percent). The piracy rate in North America by contrast in 22 percent. The Business Software Alliance has estimated that software piracy has eliminated 2.4 million jobs worldwide, and kept $400 billion in economic activity and $67 billion in tax revenues from being created.

In 2004, Associated Press reported: "Authorities in Ho Chi Minh City have launched a major crackdown against two computer companies selling pirated copies of Microsoft programs, an official said Tuesday. Government inspectors and police raided Phong Vu and Hoan Long computer companies, seizing 40 CD-ROMs containing pirated Microsoft programs, said Phan An Sa, chief inspector at the Ministry of Culture and Information. [Source: The Associated Press, November 23, 2004 \:/]

"Sa said the inspectors also deleted Microsoft programs installed in 30 computers waiting to be sold. Each company was fined 25 million dong (US$1,590) for their copyright violations, he said. "This is a good start," Sa said, adding it was the first time ministry inspectors were involved in a software raid. "We will continue to intensify our crackdown against piracy." The crackdown came after Vietnam joined the Berne Convention for copyright protection in late October. An estimated 97 percent of software on Vietnam's market is pirated, one of the highest rates in the world, according to industry trade group Business Software Alliance. \:/

Computer Viruses Continue to Prove Costly in Viet Nam

In 2013, the Viet Nam News reported: "Computer end-users in Viet Nam lose a combined $400 million (VND 8 trillion) a year due to malicious programmes and computer viruses. The figure was made known by Viet Nam's leading internet security firm, Bach Khoa Internetwork Security Centre (BKAV). A survey conducted by the firm found there had been no significant improvement in the number of infected computers from April 2012 – April 2013. [Source: Viet Nam News, June 8, 2013 :::]

"This means each end user in Viet Nam lost VND1.34 million in the period" said Nguyen Minh Duc, director of BKAV's internet security department. However, the company said the figure was still low compared with other countries such as England, which lost some $43 billion each year due to computer viruses. Further figures from BKAV showed that 93 percent of Viet Nam's PCs became infected at least once by a virus during that period, up 5 percent compared to the previous year. :::

"In addition, about 36 percent of PCs within Viet Nam encountered a virus once a month during the period, while the major avenue for the spread of the infections continued to be USB gateways. The situation could become more serious with the rampant W32.USBFakeDrive malicious firmware, which was detected by BKAV in March 2013. BKAV experts said that the main factor attributed to PCs in Viet Nam becoming infected was cracked or unlicensed software. Users also clicked on strange link that led to websites contaminated with Fake AV virus. " :::

Vietnam IT Leader Makes Strong Debut on Stock Exchange

In 2006, AFP reported: "Vietnam's leading information technology group FPT has made an enthusiastic debut on Ho Chi Minh City's stock exchange, weeks after teaming up with several US software companies, the group said. A total of 60.8 million shares were traded, ending the day at 400,000 dong ($25) each, the company said in a statement. [Source: Agence France Presse, December 13, 2006 <<<]

The listing gave the company a market value of $1.5 billion, or about 20 percent of the value of the fledgling bourse in the former Saigon. FPT Corporation is the communist nation's market leader in mobile phone distribution, systems integration, software outsourcing and development, telecom, Internet and e-media content and computer assembly. Last year the company, which employs 5,000 people, reported revenue of more than $517 million, having booked an average of 70 percent annual growth over the past five years. "Our next target is listing on a regional stock trading center and to become a global corporation," said chief executive officer Truong Gia Binh. "We know that there will be many difficulties and obstacles." <<<

"FPT listed on the exchange just weeks after the group and Microsoft Corporation signed a three-year strategic alliance agreement. In October, FPT also said it had sold shares worth 36.5 million dollars to US chip giant Intel and private equity firm Texas Pacific Group. "We see FPT's announcement of its IPO as a positive step for the company to reach its goals of growing internationally and expanding into new lines of business," said Arvind Sodhani, president of Intel Capital. Some experts however said FPT was overpriced on a stock exchange that they saw as currently overheating. "The first day does not mean anything," said Kevin Snowball, director of PXP Vietnam Asset management, an investment fund specialized in Vietnam. "The shares are now extremely expensive and chances are they will go down. "It is a good company but not that good... It is not Microsoft." <<<

"The IT market in Vietnam has been growing 20 percent annually and is now worth more than 800 million dollars. Vietnam, with a highly literate population of about 84 million, two-thirds of them aged under 30, is Southeast Asia's fastest growing personal computer market." <<<

INTERNET IN VIETNAM

About a third of Vietnam’s 90 million people, use the Internet and about 20 million of them have Facebook accounts, according to a report published at a seminar on information technology in Ho Chi Minh City in September 2013. About 73 percent Vietnam’s 31 million Internet users are younger than 35.

The Internet was introduced into Vietnam in 1997. Since then, web usage has grown at an average annual rate of 30 percent, from 200,000 users in 2000 to almost 16 million users in 2007 to 30,802,000 users in 2012. Facebook entered the country in 2011 and quickly captured 10.5 million users, or nearly 12 percent of the population. Internet users: 23.382 million (2009), country comparison to the world: 17. Internet country code:.vn, Internet hosts: 189,553 (2012), country comparison to the world: 74. Because relatively few Vietnamese have their own personal computer many still access the Internet and use computers at Internet cafes.

Internet Users by year (year, users, population of Vietnam, users as percentage of population): A) 2000: 200,000, 78,964,700, 0.3 percent; B) 2005: 10,711,000, 83,944,402, 12.8 percent; C) 2007: 16,737,129, 85,031,436, 19.7 percent; D) 2008: 20,669,285, 86,116,559, 24.0 percent; E) 2009: 22,779,887, 88,576,758, 25.7 percent; F) 2012: 30,802,752, 90,549,390, 34.0 percent. [Source: ITU, VNNIC]

Vietnam's state-run press has been calling for stricter control of the Internet because of pornography and "counter-revolutionary" information on some sites. The government has a firewall that blocks dozens of sites featuring pornography or criticism of the government. According to Global Post: "Like China, Vietnam has been struggling to take advantage of the openness offered by the internet while maintaining its tight hold on the flow of information. Vietnam’s block is one of many measures undertaken recently to curb online activism and other internet activities deemed "harmful" by authorities."

Margie Mason of Associated Press wrote: While the government tightly controls all forms of media, and blocks access to anti-communist Web sites, it has allowed the Internet to reach even remote towns, opening a window to worlds many Vietnamese didn't know existed. "Today is the world of information," said Nguyen Mai Lien, 28, an editor at VnExpress, Vietnam's first Web-based newspaper, started in 2001 in Hanoi. "The online newspaper is the quickest way of transmitting the news from Vietnam to the outside world and the news from the world into Vietnam." For a while official Vietnamese Communist Party website (www.cp.org ) was getting 1 million hits a month. [Source: Margie Mason, Associated Press, April 25, 2005]

In 2007, Frank Zeller of Agence France Presse wrote: "Blogging has rapidly caught on in Vietnam, where two-thirds of people are under 30 and most are happy technology-adopters who casually text-message each other while riding mopeds through chaotic city traffic. The number of Internet connections has mushroomed to 16.7 million in the country of 84 million people, with cybercafes and wi-fi spots widespread. "In Vietnam, once something comes along in the way of technology or information, people take to it really very quickly," said Canadian expatriate Joe Ruelle, a celebrity in the local blogosphere. "There's a whole language of Internet Vietnamese that's completely different, with abbreviated words, slang and word plays. Someone who doesn't read on the Internet a lot probably wouldn't get half of it," he said. [Source: Frank Zeller, Agence France Presse, September 6, 2007 >=<]

Broadband Internet Grows 300 Percent in Vietnam in One Year

In June 2006, Deutsche Presse Agentur reported: "The number of broadband internet subscribers in Vietnam has quadrupled in the past year, a government official and local news media said. "There's a huge demand for internet services in Vietnam," said Nguyen Thanh Hai, chief inspector at the Ministry of Posts and Telematics. The growth of ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber lines) is largely due to dramatically falling costs. As a result there has been a proliferation of computer cafes, making the Internet available in even the smallest villages. Global Internet Policy Initiative Vietnam, a research group estimated that as of April 2006, Vietnam had 227,000 broadband subscribers, 300 percent more than the previous year. [Source: Deutsche Presse Agentur - June 4, 2006 \~/]

"Vietnam's Ministry of Post and Telematics has made a concerted effort to bring consumers, as well as businesses and government online. But much of the internet usage has been fuelled by young Vietnamese who are addicted to online games and chat rooms. The government said Friday it will step up inspections of internet cafes beginning July 1, after several people participating in online chat rooms were murdered. "It's easy to manage youngsters at home with parental supervision," said Hai. "But when they are out at internet cafes no- one supervises them. They could log onto websites with depraved content and information." \~/

"Currently anyone using a public Internet connection must show their identification. However, users report that café owners rarely ask for their papers. The government also announced this week that game shop owners must install software intended to limit the number of hours gamers can play each day. After three hours online, players' characters will only be able to rack up half the number of points. Broadband has been available in Vietnam since 2003, when it had just 183 users in its first year of operations. Today all of Vietnam's provinces have high-speed Internet connections." \~/

Vietnam Suffers Internet Slowdown Due to Stolen Cable

In May 2007, Deutsche Presse Agentur reported: "Vietnamese internet users are suffering slower service after ocean-going thieves stole at least 11 kilometers of fiber-optic cable from the sea floor and sold it for scrap, a Vietnamese telecommunications executive confirmed 'The cable was cut and stolen in March of this year,' said Lan Quoc Cuong, deputy director of Vietnamese telecom firm VTI, which is part owner of the stolen cable. 'It is very serious for our system.' Vietnamese telecommunications officials say the scrap sellers have severed one of two undersea lines which provide some 82 percent of Vietnam's telecommunications bandwidth, including internet and telephone service." [Source: Deutsche Presse Agentur - May 30, 2007 ><]

"Authorities have not discovered who initially cut the cable. But police in the southern coastal town of Vung Tau said they captured a boat carrying 60 tons of salvaged fiber-optic cable. The previous day, they had arrested those on board three other boats carrying a total of 40 tons of salvaged cable. All four boats allegedly belonged to the same man, a Vung Tau resident. ><

"According to Vietnamese press reports Wednesday, the country's defense ministry signed a contract last August with several companies to salvage undersea copper cables left over by the former government of South Vietnam. The reports said some of the companies apparently went on to 'salvage' the operational fiber-optic cables. Police say they have broken up five rings selling some 500 tons of illegally salvaged cable since the beginning of this year. But Cuong said the fiber-optic cable seized by police in Vung Tau does not match the cable owned by VTI, and must have come from a different severed line. ><

"VTI's Cuong said finding the cable would have been difficult for the thieves. 'The cable is located in different locations and at different depths,' he said. 'Maybe, while using an anchor, they found the cable by accident and started cutting it.' Cuong said fixing the cable will cost $2.6 million. It is expected to take almost three months. Experts say that if its second undersea cable were cut, Vietnam would suffer severe restriction of its international telecommunications. ><

Vietnam Student Murdered over Internet Insult

In 2006, the Financial Mirror reported: "An argument over insulting language in an Internet chat room turned deadly in Vietnam when a 20-year-old university student stabbed a student from another school. Police are searching for Nguyen Van Xuan, an English language student at Hanoi Open University, in the stabbing death of Nguyen Minh Ngoc, 24, the boyfriend of one of Xuan's classmates. [Source: Financial Mirror (.cy), February 24, 2006 <->]

"The trouble apparently started when Ngoc's girlfriend, Huong Tra, took offense at Xuan's calling her "crazy" in a class Internet forum. She posted angry replies demanding that Xuan apologize, and when he refused, she telephoned her boyfriend and asked him to confront Xuan. Ngoc, a student at the Hanoi Construction University, came to the school after classes ended Tuesday and got into an argument with Xuan at about 5:30 p.m., according to Vu Anh Tuan, the head teacher of the English department. "The three of them met outside the school gates and exchange words.

During the argument, Xuan took a knife from his bag and stabbed Nguyen Minh Ngoc four times," Tuan said. Ngoc died at the scene and Xuan fled, the teacher said. "We're all very shocked because both Xuan and Tra are very good students with the highest marks," Tuan said. The English class Internet forum, which was used to help students study together, has been temporarily disabled. In April 2003 a Vietnamese man was stabbed to death by four men over a dispute in an Internet chat room. <->

Blogs Take Off in Vietnam

In 2007, Frank Zeller of Agence France Presse wrote: " Pop stars are doing it, so are millions of teenagers and even Communist Party politicians -- blogging has taken Vietnam by storm and spawned an alternative communications universe to dusty state media. In an online phenomenon that has exploded in a little over a year in this youthful and booming nation, millions of net surfers now reveal all as they share daily gossip and thoughts on their fast-changing society. Vietnam may be a one-party state that censors its official media and the Internet, but this hasn't stopped millions of yong people embracing a world of carefree online chatting their parents could only have dreamed off. [Source: Frank Zeller, Agence France Presse, September 6, 2007 >=<]

"Blogs were nothing two years ago and suddenly everybody's got one," said 28-year-old Canadian expatriate Joe Ruelle, a celebrity in the local blogosphere. "The number of people who have blogs is baffling," he said. "It's kind of like the Wild West right now. People write everything." When Hollywood star Angelina Jolie came to adopt a child here in March, in a visit celebrated by state media, bloggers hotly debated the merits of her trip -- and whether she really is the world's most beautiful woman. >=<

"When Vietnam hosted world leaders for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit last year, student volunteers and state-paid staff provided behind-the-scenes looks at the event. Bloggers have fought wars over the cultural divide between Vietnam's north and south, but they have also raised funds for the needy, arranged organ donations and given support to people suffering deadly diseases. Blogger Cuoi HK, aka Tuyen, a Vietnam Airlines employee, touched thousands as he chronicled his fight against cancer on a blog, and supporters held real-life "offline parties" for him before he died earlier this year. "I read your blog to learn how to live and fight," wrote blogger Phuong Thanh. "Thanks for your smile. I know you will be with us forever." >=<

"Pop stars such as Phuong Linh use blogs to share details of their daily lives, and unknowns such as blogger Ha Kin have become minor Internet stars through blogs such as her 50-part "Love Story in New York". National assembly deputy Duong Trung Quoc, a prominent historian, recently became the legislature's first blogger, posting an assembly diary as well as historical tit-bits about the 1,000-year-old capital city. Even Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has shared details of his personal life in a one-off online chat to reach out to young and tech-savvy citizens. "Some people said that as a senior leader, one may feel very lonely," Dung wrote. "But I have never felt lonely. I don't know what other people think, but I feel life is always beautiful." Vietnam's rulers have also been parodied in fake blogs using their names, in which unknown writers have sung the praises of the Communist Party -- leading the goverment in August to affirm that Dung has only one official website. >=<

"But for the most part, it is youngsters who have pioneered the form, usually with non-political chit-chat. Phan Kim Ngan, a 13-year-old student from Hanoi, said at least half her 40 classmates now have a blog. Some even have two. "Those who don't have blogs are mostly those without a PC and an Internet connection at home," she said. "They can use an Internet cafe, but that makes it harder to regularly update their blogs. "I write about my life, what I think, and what happens at school. I don't share my blog with my parents and never with my teachers. We sometimes complain about them, so they can't know about our entries." Writing diaries has a long tradition in Vietnam, a country with a strong and ancient literary heritage, and the tragic Vietnam war diaries of female army doctor Dang Thuy Tram have become a recent best-seller. But for Ngan and many of her class-mates, written diaries are as passe as the Vietnam War that ended in 1975, long before she was born. "It's old-fashioned and I already have to do too much hand-writing at school," she said. "On a blog we can express ourselves more freely. Writing a blog is a good break from study. It's entertainment." >=<

"But blogging is really just an extension of the Vietnamese chatting culture. There is a real satirical bent here. People like to joke and wind each other up about silly things. Vietnamese are the ultimate chatters" Ruelle said. He should know. His blog — a series of quirky takes on daily life, and originally a way to practice his Vietnamese — has received three million hits and made him a household name here. "I had written a few things, mostly for my friends," he said. "There was an entry about old ladies doing exercises in a park to that song "boom, boom, boom boom -- I want you in my room." And I wrote about why I thought that was funny. "An online newspaper found my blog and put it on its front page, and it immediately went from 10,000 to 100,000 hits. I got so many emails from readers that at first I thought my inbox was full of spam." Ruelle has since published a best-selling book of his blogs and parlayed his online stardom into a job as host of a VTV6 youth show and a leading role in a soon-to-be-screened tele-romance. >=<

"The authorities have taken notice of the blog boom. State and party censors have threatened fines and other penalties for "black blogs" with pornographic and "out of stream" content or "information against the party and the state". "There's been debate about whether there should be some kind of censorship," said Ruelle. "The main conclusion was, 'What on earth would you use as an acceptable standard?' It's pretty much a free-for-all at the moment." >=<

Sex Blogs Take off in Vietnam

In 2007, Tuoi Tre reported: "Besides serving exchange purposes, many personal blogs are becoming places to disseminate sexual images, stories and even personal photos. Tuan, a student residing on Phan Van Han, District Binh Thanh, Ho Chi Minh City, said, "These days, I’m making a lot of money by creating blogs for prostitutes. I can earn a few hundred dong for each blog. It is an easy way of making money." [Source: Tuoi Tre, April 16, 2007 <<>>]

"These blogs don’t have very elaborate looks. The content, however, is open sex sales. For instance, blogger L.A. advertises in her blog, "L.A., 18 years old, just been 2 months in the profession. Tall, white-skinned, having all that is necessary, very enthusiastic. Money back if not satisfied. Contact 091855xxxx." Accompanying these words are sexually stimulating photos. Another ad on N.H’s blog runs as follows, "Specialised in providing all kinds of ‘flowers’, from high-class to economy. ‘Flowers’ can be transported as far away as Phan Thiet and Nha Trang. Beauty, enthusiasm, and reasonable prices all guaranteed. Contact 090924xxxx for home delivery." <<>>

There are also blogs that sell sex toys for both heterosexuals and homosexuals. And blog M. is where sex CDs and videos are sold and delivered by mail; payments are made through account transferring. H., the owner of another sex blog, advertised, "I have all sorts of CDs to ‘warm up’, as well as toys for both males and females. I have products from Japan, China, and the US. What do you like? We deliver to your door." Many bloggers create sex blogs as proof of their connoisseurship. For instance, sex bloggers often visit M.H’s blog as a forum of sex lovers. In this blog, the owner regularly brags and updates his "achievements". And following these "diaries" are lists of phone numbers of girls who have slept with M.H. M.H. often receives feedback full of enthusiasm and admiration like "You’re such a connoisseur", "I bow to you as to a teacher", or "Can you tell me the secrets of your success?" <<>>

Not only boys, but many girls also consider blogs a "gallery" of "happy moments" with their lovers. A blogger claiming to be a 12th grader at a high school in Ho Chi Minh City brags, "Yesterday, I went out. If father hadn’t called me home early, I would have deflowered H." Or another female blogger called N who writes her husband is a sailor so she is "in need of love, markets herself with nude photos and such words as "need boys to confide in. Only beauty and strength are required, money isn’t necessary." N is actually 32 years old and currently working at a state-owned company. Besides creating sex blogs to satisfy their own vanity and sexual needs, some bloggers like N.A use sex to lure more visitors to their blogs. Nhan, a blogger, said, "My blog has been in place for several months but there have been no visitors. So, following friends’ advice, I posted sexual images to attract more visitors. The number of visitors has been increasing by leaps and bounds." <<>>

Nguyen Thi Huong, an office employee in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, said, "I was dazed when accidentally entering a sex blog, which is even worse than sex websites since its owner publicises his or her name. That makes the blog no longer a personal blog, but a public place distributing perverted materials. I don’t know where our cultural managers are." With such statements as "Sex is a vital part of life", more and more bloggers are disseminating perverted sexual messages and images. A cultural official said, "We can find ways to stop questionable sex websites. But as for personal sex blogs, we don’t know what to do yet." <<>>

Vietnamese Youth Becoming Hooked on Facebook and Social Networking Sites

A third of the 90 million people in Vietnam use the Internet and about 20 million of them have Facebook accounts.

Youth in Vietnam have become dependant on social networks such as Facebook. Vietnam News reported: "Senior student Nguyen Tuong Linh opens his Facebook account at least five times a day, no matter how busy he is. He chats, sees friends' photos, clicks on other web pages linked to the site and makes some comments. All his daily Facebook routines consumes at least two hours per day. He is among 1 million Facebook users in Vietnam (up to July, 2010, according to ZeninthOptimedia), many of whom have become dependent on social networks, which widely concerns psychologists. "I feel uncomfortable if I do not enter the site once every three hours," he admitted, "The demand for connecting with friends urges me to check the account as often as I can." [Source: Vietnam News/ANN, November 7, 2010 /=/]

"Luu Diep Tu, another office junior clerk, said she and her friends went out less often since the group joined a common social network. "All of our exchanges have mainly been done through the network," she said, "It's less expensive and quicker I think. Surfing through my friends' statuses, I know their most updated information, what they think and whether they need help and comfort." /=/

"It's impossible to deny the role of "imaginary friends", who help share real life sorrows and happinesses of the youth in Vietnam nowadays, like Facebook, Yume, Hi5, Cyworld, Zing Me and Yobanbe. People are choosing social networks due to their effectiveness, which is narrowing the sharing space in real life, according to psychology consultant An Viet Chat from the An Viet Son Psychology Consultancy in Hanoi. He also admitted that social networks helped ease the pressure of modern life and the demand to build an the image of oneself. "The accompanying tools of social networks, like finding old friends easily and establishing new relationships, are something like sweet honey to lure people to this kind of addiction," he said. /=/

"Lecturer Tran Thi Ngoc Nho, who teaches Urban Studies at Ho Chi Minh City's Social Sciences and Humanities University, said social networks had big influences on the youth's public communication space. "The communications of the youth are changing from individual communications to public communications," she said, "That's why social networks are reducing real communications among people, making them gradually stay away from the real space." /=/

"Nguyen Dinh Toan, a graduate of the university, analysed that social network addiction was a systematic habit of abusing and using the networks, which led to the dependence on the network. "It's easy to find out that the time for social network users click on the pages most is in working time," said Vo Thanh Tung, who is in charge of IT management at a joint-stock company in Hanoi. "This distracts them from their office work. We have to block social networks from our company's server so that staff can't use social network at work." Toan, however, insists that such a method had no effect on social network addiction. "The staff may not use an office computer for that purpose, but they can use their mobile phones instead," Toan said. /=/

"Nguyen Thi Le Uyen, from Ho Chi Minh City's Institute for Development Research, said the key factor of the society was the belief in a surrounding community. "The young person should have enough energy, skill and spirit to overcome the drawbacks of an imaginary social network to win the belief of his/her community in real life," she said. "That's a wise way to use social networks." Some other IT experts advised social network users to control their time surfing the net. Their tips included using a stopwatch to set the time, using the telephone more often, going outside morefrequently, limiting memberships in the networks and removing cellphone applications. "Using social networks is a wise andeffective way to communicate and catch up with the rest of the world providing that network usersdon't forget the realities," said Tung. /=/

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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