Overall, the Lao PDR has a weak physical infrastructure. As yet, there is no train system. Travel to remote provinces requires a plane. During the rainy season, roads to remote areas may be impassable. At other times, inexpensive bus transportation is available for ordinary people to travel through the country.
The country is served by a network of 21,534 kilometers (13,381 miles) of roads, of which 16.5 percent are paved. As part of the 1996-2000 National Plan, major work has been undertaken to improve the country's limited road infrastructure. A key project is the reconstruction of Highway 13 which links China in the north and Pakxé in the south.
The Lao PDR is receiving considerable international assistance to develop its infrastructure. The Japanese, for example, provided assistance in building a new international airport in Vientiane, and the Thais assisted with a new airport in Luang Prabang. The country's weak road infrastructure adversely affects the development of its rich natural resources, such as minerals and wood products
In April 1994, the Friendship Bridge, the first ever across the lower parts of the Mekong River, was completed with a US$40 million grant from Australia. Upon completion of the bridge, the Lao government issued a regulation not allowing private cars to use the bridge. The government feared a wave of private cars from Thailand
|Country||Newspapers||Radios||TV Sets a||Cable subscribers a||Mobile Phones a||Fax Machines a||Personal Computers a||Internet Hosts b||Internet Users b|
|a Data are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.|
|b Data are from the Internet Software Consortium ( http://www.isc.org ) and are per 10,000 people.|
|SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.|
which would cause accidents, congestion, and pollution. Thus, the bridge is used mainly commercially by trucks and buses and has helped landlocked Laos connect economically with its neighbors in the region. A second new bridge over the Mekong, the Lao-Nippon Bridge, was completed in the south near Pakxé in August 2000 and was financed primarily by the Japanese. A third bridge across the Mekong at Savannakhet is scheduled for completion in 2003. This bridge connected to Route 9 will connect both central Laos and northeast Thailand to the Vietnamese port of Da Nang. These bridges, as well as better road infrastructure, will improve Lao links with major ports in Thailand and Vietnam.
With its many mountains and tributaries of the Mekong River, the Lao PDR has excellent hydroelectric power potential. The country's total hydropower potential is estimated to be 25,000 megawatts (MW). Laos has even been referred to as the potential battery of Southeast Asia. Currently the country has 10 major electric power plants with a total capacity of 1329.5 MW. In 1998, the nation consumed just over one-third of the 1.34 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity generated. The Lao PDR plans to construct a total of 12 dams on the Mekong's tributaries over the next decade. The decision has caused considerable controversy in the international environmental community. Major concerns include effects on displaced rural populations in Laos itself, the fish populations of the Mekong and its tributaries, and unintended effects on downstream communities in Cambodia and Vietnam, which are highly dependent on the natural flows of the Mekong River.
Only those of higher socioeconomic status have telephones in their homes, though cell phones are increasingly popular among those of higher socioeconomic status. The country has only a total of 18,139 conventional phone lines, of which 71.8 percent are in the capital. Phone cards are also now available. It is the goal of Lao Télécommunications to have 49,000 telephone lines installed by 2001. Televisions are widely used wherever there is access to electricity. About 72 percent of urban households and 22 percent of rural households have televisions. Much of the Lao population lives in the lowlands in close proximity to Thailand. Thus, they have access to popular Thai TV programming with related advertisements for a variety of popular Thai consumer goods . Shinawatra (a Thai telecommunications conglomerate) has been active in assisting the Lao PDR develop its telecommunications infrastructure.
Though Laos has not officially joined the World Wide Web (there is not yet a .lao suffix), some Lao people, especially in urban areas, are using the Internet. There are now a number of private cyber shops in Vientiane offering public Internet service.