The struggle of innovative thinking when bringing the Internet into Vietnam

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 If Vietnam's telecommunications and mobile services opened 15-30 years later than the rest of the world, the launch of the Internet in Vietnam was only a few years slower than other countries.


General Vo Nguyen Giap visited the first server system of VDC. File photo

The premise for bringing Internet into Vietnam was set up very early, but to get what we have today, it was a long way of 'struggling' in terms of innovation. Lessons learned from this process are valuable experiences for Vietnam in today's digital transformation.
Launching in 1991, the special emails in 1994

According to Thai, in 1991 Vietnam did not attend the first international meeting on Internet in Europe but it was lucky to have a chance to attend the second meeting held in Kobe (Japan) the same year.Mr. Tran Ba Thai, former Director of NetNam, who is considered the second most important person to bring the Internet into Vietnam, said: "The Internet was introduced to Vietnam quite late compared to other countries in Southeast Asia. However, it has brought the country the biggest results - democratic and economic ground - right from the early stages."
At that time, the Internet was just used within the scientific community and a number of universities in the US and Europe. In 1991, the Institute of Information Technology under the Vietnam Academy of Science trialed the Internet in cooperation with a German university as part of a UNDP project.
“We did the first things to build Internet infrastructure like making accounts in this university's network and tested the basic technologies. The test was mainly about researching technology platforms, creating email accounts and transferring files to each other. After that, we ran out of funding so we stopped that project,” Thai recalled.
In April 1994, Prof. Dang Huu, Minister of Science and Technology, assigned Thai to set up an email to serve the Australian Prime Minister's visit to Vietnam. At that time, the Internet was very new in Vietnam and it was still a very confusing issue so to have a domain name of Vietnam (.vn), Mr. Tran Van Dac - Director of the Science Department - had to sign an official letter of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, but without being sealed, and fax it to the APNIC to register for a single subject.
When the domain name was available, the Institute created the first email server, the account of former Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet with a .vn domain name. This was the second pair of heads of state in the world to use the Internet for work. The first pair was President Bill Clinton and Swedish President Carl Bilt. Without any experience of setting up anaccount, the Institute made the address
The hard process to launch the Internet in Vietnam

The Internet was introduced to Vietnam quite late compared to other countries in Southeast Asia.

In 1997, when the Internet officially entered Vietnam, debates broke out amid concerns about national security and the benefits of the information highway, as well as the right to access information on the Internet.
The 23-year milestone may not be a long time, but for a field with miraculous growth such as IT and the Internet, it has been long enough to realize the amazing level of change that has occurred.
Former Director General of the General Department of Post Office Mai Liem Truc said that there was a long struggle in terms of innovation. At that time, the country was in a complicated and difficult period of renovation. Innovative thinking had kicked off and Vietnamese leaders were determined to innovate. The opening for the coming of the Internet at that time was a big challenge in the innovation process because it was a very sensitive issue.
In 1991, Truc attended a meeting in Washington DC, and that was the first time he experienced the Internet. Then, at several meetings in Asia, many leaders of other countries told him "See you on the Internet".
When the Internet was not available, Party and State leaders asked the General Department of Post and Telecommunications to take Vietnamese newspapers with them to Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and North America so that international friends could understand Vietnam better. However, even when the newspapers were transported to these markets, the question was who would sell the newspapers. It was very difficult and expensive to transport by air. But with the Internet, it would be simple and not cost much. At that time, experts, scientists and the media were in favor of opening the Internet in Vietnam. But leaders found the Internet too new, so they asked to restrict the downside of the Internet.
“In the last moments to persuade the opening of the Internet at the highest level, the Politburo’s standing members and Prime Minister Phan Van Khai asked: If Vietnam opens the Internet, can all harmful information on the Internet be blocked? I, as the General Director of the General Department of Post and Telecommunications, and Mr. Khanh Toan, Deputy Minister of Public Security, and Mr. Chu Hao, Deputy Minister of Science and Technology, made detailed reports in the meeting with the Politburo’s standing members,” Truc recalled.
“Mr. Khanh Toan at that time talked in detail about documents related to PM Khai’s question. Former General Secretary Le Kha Phieu then asked about the implementation in reality. I stood up to report that there were joint circulars between the General Department of Post and Telecommunications, the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Culture and Information, but in the actual implementation due to technical and professional conditions, it was impossible to block harmful information completely. However, we will minimize the harmful information of the Internet.”
“After that, the Politburo’s standing members agreed to open the Internet and we went to persuade the Government. All four of us went to Prime Minister Phan Van Khai’s house and the Prime Minister agreed to open the Internet. However, when we left, the Prime Minister patted me on the shoulder and said: "You guys do what you want, but don't let it (the Internet) be closed so we will not know how to tell the world about it," said Mr. Truc.
Internet is the fruit of innovation

“At that time, opening the Internet in our country was difficult in terms of technology, but the most difficult thing was how to clearly explain and persuade responsible agencies about the great benefits of the Internet for the country's economic and social development and the ability to control Internet operations,” Khanh said.Recalling the early days of persuading the country’s leaders to accept the Internet, former Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Khanh - one of the 10 people with the greatest merit to bring the Internet into Vietnam – said that it was difficult to persuade leaders to accept that the Internet was full of difficulties because there were many different information flows.
Even when the Government decided to open the Internet, it was very cautious, and Vietnam was both implementing the Internet while learning from experience. The provisional regulations on the management, establishment and use of the Internet in Vietnam attached to the Decree dated March 21, 1997 stipulated: “Computer networks and databases of Party agencies, Government agencies, and national defense and security agencies are not allowed to connect to the Internet."
Vietnamese scientists and the mass media quickly recognized the power of the Internet so they actively supported and promoted the opening of the Internet.
"I think that the State’s permission for the opening of the Internet at that time was the expression of the innovative thinking of the leaders of the Party and the Government at that time and also a clear result of renovation," Mr. Nguyen Khanh said.
Changing the mindset
“I will never forget that it was November 19, 1997 when the Internet officially opened in Vietnam. I was very happy that a great opportunity had not been lost and the country had a means for change. At a press conference with foreign news agencies, I was excited to speak in English so that when the news was broadcast to the world, it would not be translated in the wrong way,” Mr. Truc recalled.
Former Director General of the General Department of Post Office Mai Liem Truc

“At that time, we knew that Decree 21 had many uncertainties for the development of the Internet. From the beginning, the General Department of Post and Telecommunications found that it was necessary to change this Decree, because if the mindset that 'the opening of Internet' has to keep up with the 'ability to control Internet' was maintained, it was dialectical and limited the development of the Internet,” said Mr. Truc.However, when Vietnam opened the Internet, Decree 21 still restricted the development of Internet so that three years later Vietnam issued Decree 55 to "untie" the Internet. When the Internet opened in 1997, besides Decree 21, there were documents from high levels directing that the opening of Internet in Vietnam would proceed along with the country’s management ability.
“Management must keep up with development. This is right for many industries, not just the Internet. However, persuading leaders to replace Decree 21 with Decree 55 was difficult. Even when we had already opened the Internet, there were still too many concerns in awareness. At that time, the opening of Internet agents, even by the Vietnam Post and Telecommunications Group (VNPT), was also restricted, " said Mr. Mai Liem Truc.
Truc said that the first lesson is to always have innovative thinking in various fields, especially the Internet, because this is a rapidly developing field. If we are satisfied with success without innovating our mindset, the Internet will not be developed. Social trends are increasingly democratic, with international integration and stronger globalization. The Internet is the connection between service technology and content, so without innovation thinking, we cannot promote Internet development.

Van Anh - Thai Khang