IT took billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates’ recent comments about the jumble of messy overhead cables commonly seen in Thai cities to finally get the government to do something about them.
Officials have announced a 51.7-billion-baht (US$1.5 billion) program to put 127 kilometers of overhead power lines and cables underground, removing the eyesore that residents have complained about for years.
The plan’s first phase, which is expected to be completed in 2020, will group together all existing power, telecommunications, and broadcasting cables into a single platform below ground on 39 roads in Bangkok, Samut Prakan, and Nonthaburi, reported the Bangkok Post.
On Wednesday, the Metropolitan Electricity Authority (MEA), TOT Plc., the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, and the Royal Thai Police signed a memorandum of understanding to carry out the project.
The current practice in Thailand is for telecommunications and broadcasting companies to rent cement poles from the MEA and the Provincial Electricity Authority (PEA), and then add wires as new subscribers sign up for their services.
Over the years, the accumulation of telecommunications wires, cables, and optical fiber lines, together with the electricity authority’s power lines, has caused some concrete poles to collapse, unable to support the excessive load of utility wires.
Some poles have even been knocked down in traffic accidents, cutting off power and utilities for entire blocks of buildings.
Upon hearing news of the plan to remove the unsightly wiring, however, some residents voiced their skepticism, as the project has faced numerous delays due to lack of funding.
On Friday, Gates posted a photo album to his public Facebook page showing examples of energy poverty around the world – one of the many issues he is currently advocating for.
He caused a bit of an uproar, though, when he mistook the chaotic mess of overhead cables in a Thai city for hazardous electricity wires, sharing the photo above with the caption:
Due to faulty infrastructure, many urban areas suffer from frequent blackouts and power cuts, and the electrical grid often doesn’t serve the people who need it most.
I’ve visited many cities filled with tangled wires such as those in this photo from Thailand, where people have illegally tapped into the grid on their own to get the power they need — at great personal risk.
Netizens quickly corrected Gates, commenting that the cables he was referring to were likely cables for phone lines, cable TV, and internet.
Some were also miffed that he was suggesting that the practice of power stealing was common in Thailand, which they informed him wasn’t the case.
Following the outcry, Gates took down the offending photo.