Vietnam says 85% of its people will have access to broadband within two years. What each individual does with that access will determine whether he or she ends up living in luxury or prison.
Government leaders know Vietnam’s continued rapid economic development depends partly on Internet access, but they don’t want citizens challenging authority, government policies or, especially, the one-party system that keeps the current regime in power.
So Vietnam is leap-frogging generations of communications technology, such as skipping fixed-lined infrastructure, and getting the latest smart phones in the homes of remote villagers who only recently got access to electricity.
But anyone who uses state-of-the art technology to bite the hand that feeds them, as bloggers do worldwide, risks the fate of Nguyen Dac Kien, the journalist who was fired last month from a state-run newspaper and threatened with prosecution for criticizing a Communist Party leader on his personal website.
Vietnam faces a big challenge managing the freedoms that the communications revolution has brought. Vietnam’s economy can’t thrive without technology that facilitates free enterprize — but its one-party system may not survive if the same technology facilitates free expression.