Not many can remember when the Internet was in its infancy in Vietnam just over two decades ago.
NetNam Co., based in Hanoi, is considered the pioneering Internet provider in Vietnam.
Founded in 1994, the firm was among the country’s first four Internet Service Providers (ISP) back in the 1990s, according to its website.
The company’s Internet, online and managed services have been highly trusted by individual users, organizations and enterprises ever since.
Feeling their way
Internet services were officially introduced in the Southeast Asian country in December 1997.
However, insiders began seeking ways to obtain a permit from the government as far back as 1993.
In 1991, Dr. Mai Liem Truc, head of the National Administration of Posts (now the Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group), attended an international seminar in the U.S., where he was first introduced to the Internet.
The National Administration of Posts was the country’s watchdog and sole supplier of post and telecoms services back then.
Applying his great vision, Truc was positive the Internet would be indispensable to his country’s integration and growth.
The global computer network would help Vietnam free itself from isolation and connect to and keep pace with the rest of the world.
NetNam, originally comprising scientists from the Institute of Information Technology under the Vietnam Institute of Science and Technology (now the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology), was tasked with the mission of pioneering the country’s first Internet services.
Despite Vietnam not adopting an open-door policy until the 1990s, the Vietnam Institute of Science and Technology had earlier sent its academics to Eastern and Western European countries for training, according to Tran Ba Thai, a former NetNam director.
|Employees work at a software company in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
“This greatly facilitated the institution’s and NetNam’s efforts as pioneers,” he noted.
Thai along with some other pundits from the institute attended an international conference in Kobe, Japan in 1992, when the use of the global network was limited to the intelligentsia and a number of universities in the U.S. and Europe.
“We initially considered the Internet an instrument for scientific study only,” he added.
The Internet’s comprehensive value soon dawned on the scientists, however, who later formed a partnership with a research group from the Australian National University (ANU), a national research university located in Canberra, to test the network.
Bound by ‘destiny,’ Thai and Professor Rob Hurle from the Australian institution soon embarked on experiments in connecting computers in Vietnam and Australia through landline phone lines.
Hurle designed a new piece of software for the UNIX system, a family of multitasking, multiuser computer operating systems, so that modems could be utilized to link computers in Vietnam, allowing the exchange of computer information.
The experiment was a success, delivering the earliest experiences of the Internet to Vietnamese users, who could then use their own email boxes, though with the Australian domain .au.
Thai and Prof. Hurle were then able to exchange emails, believed to be Vietnam’s first-ever email system.
In September 1993, Prof. Hurle and a colleague from the University of Tasmania, also located in Australia, partook in a seminar in Hanoi to address plans to foster Internet use in the Southeast Asian country.
“With Vietnam’s domain .vn not yet registered, our first email address was registered in Australia, email@example.com, and we used it to receive and send emails from Vietnam to people around the world,” Thai recalled.
Users in Vietnam had an email address using the Vietnamese domain, firstname.lastname@example.org, to which the coombs.anu.edu.au was affixed for international exchange, he explained.
One of the main facilitators of the introduction of the Internet to Vietnam was Thai’s awareness of its immense potential, working as a chief engineer of a United Nations information technology project back then.
“Another stroke of luck was that the visionary leaders of the Vietnam Institute of Science and Technology at that time were warmly receptive to change and supportive of our drive to explore the Internet world,” Thai stressed.
|A senior citizen gets access to the Internet on a laptop in Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
The third element was the relatively lax government control.
“These three factors were conducive to our initial successes in connecting Vietnam to the global network,” the expert added.
State agencies, however, were not really ready for the launch.
“We met with tremendous hurdles because of high-ranking officials’ reluctance. Opponents raised concerns including risks of revealing confidential state information, spreading defamatory, anti-state information, and users’ exposure to morally and culturally corrupt content,” Dr. Truc, the then-leader of the country’s post and telecoms sector, elaborated.
After providing a complimentary email service on a two-year pilot basis, NetNam became the country’s first carrier of Internet services in 1994, offering the Vietnamese domain .vn in their email addresses.
Thousands of users gained access to free email-based services such as forums, internal communication and electronic libraries only one year following the launch, with NetNam receiving sponsorship from the Australian government and Telstra, Australia's leading provider of phones and broadband Internet, to cover international connection expenses.
“We tried to talk the high-ranking officials into embracing the Internet launch by underlining its various merits and suggesting ways to keep a rein on its problems,” Dr. Truc recalled.
“They finally gave their nod on the establishment of the National Internet Coordinating Committee in Vietnam,” he said.
In March 1997, the government issued temporary statutes on the management, tapping and usage of the Internet, followed by the National Administration of Posts granting a temporary Internet Service Provider (“ISP”) permit to the Institute of Information Technology in October 1997, before the network was officially launched just over one month later.
In 2001, Asia Week named Tran Ba Thai, along with two others from India and Mongolia, Digital Revolutionaries for their tremendous efforts in bringing the Internet to their communities.