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That Time Bill Gates Accidentally Shamed Bangkok Into Burying Its Power Lines

Thai authorities say they will finally move the city’s power, cable, and telecommunications lines underground after the philanthropist posted about it—incorrectly—on Facebook.
A man sells food under a canopy of wires in Bangkok.
A man sells food under a canopy of wires in Bangkok.Reuters/Jorge Silva

Late last month, Bill Gates made a gaffe on social media. He posted a photo to his Facebook page of a mass of wires hanging from a concrete pole on a Bangkok street, lamenting the fact that urban areas like the Thai capital “suffer from frequent blackouts.” He added that such a situation compels people to illegally tap into the grid “at great personal risk”—hence the dangerous-looking wires.

It turns out that Bangkok rarely has problems with its electricity, and that the wires pictured in Gates’ photo were actually low-voltage ones for phones and cable television. Thai citizens and the Thai government were not amused. Facebook users rushed to point out Gates’ error, and the country’s Provincial Electricity Authority reportedly created a graphic showing how high-voltage power lines sit high on their poles, while low-voltage wires are positioned much lower.