Sarawak’s broadband superhighway is anything but super. Like the trunk road, large-scale improvements are not readily on the horizon.
LAST year I lodged 14 complaints to Telekom Malaysia Bhd (TM) about my faulty Streamyx connection.
I remember the number of times I complained, because by the 14th time, I asked the lady on the other end of the line to go through my history of complaints one at a time.
At that point, I was beyond being frustrated at the non-reliability of my 4Mbps “broadband” connection.
I just wanted to impress upon her that I would no longer be contented with their usual remedies, which obviously, had not solved my problems.
Before I go on, let me also state that a 4Mbps connection is not really even “broadband” anymore.
At that speed rate, it is actually slower than my mobile phone’s LTE connection.
In some advanced countries, the definition of broadband has been revised to mean connections above 10Mbps.
Why 10Mbps? Because that is the accepted minimum speed for consistent HD video playback.
True broadband will revolutionise the world. It will allow the transfer of huge files (by today’s standards) wirelessly, quickly and cheaply.
It will change content delivery — multiple streams of video calls could be conducted at the same time.
When HD movies can be piped over the air, there will be less demand for physical discs. Efficiency and redundancy is better for the environment.
Heck, when convenience is available to all, it might even help us curb piracy.
My Streamyx connection had two main problems; frequent disconnection that can lead to reconnections at slower speeds.
On several occasions, I also totally lost connection.
The average time it takes for a complaint phone call is about five minutes. The operator would have to finish a flowchart of over-the-phone diagnostics before he or she can direct technicians to your residence.
It was on my 14th complaint that I told the operator I could tell her about her flowchart:
“What is your brand of modem?”
“Are your DSL lights on?”
“Is your PC connected via ethernet to your modem?”
“Please switch off your modem while we reset the ‘port’,” — and so on.
I urged her to skip all that and just send a technician over.
I also pleaded with her to make a note of the frequency of complaints and tell the technicians to carry out a more thorough investigation of what was actually wrong.
One of my most frustrating complaints was around the 10th time, when after the technician “fixed” my connection, he left with my broadband at half speed.
When I asked the next technician who came why that was so, his reply was that the connection was not “pumped properly” — whatever that meant.
After the 14th complaint, the connection became rather stable — and by rather stable, I mean the only time I had a service interruption this year was last week.
It was also last week when Sarawak’s Housing and Tourism Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg highlighted the woeful state of broadband infrastructure.
He was opening a TM-organised small and medium enterprises convention here when he spoke about the problems.
He began by talking about the number of Sarawakian IT talents working in Peninsular Malaysia. He spoke about a 28-year-old mobile app maker from Padungan in Kuching, who had made himself a millionaire in Kuala Lumpur.
Johari said these talented Sarawakians had left for the peninsular and elsewhere partly due to the lack of better ICT infrastructure in the state.
He likened Sarawak’s Internet infrastructure to the Pan Borneo trunk road — narrow, congested and inconsistent.
“Sarawakians can create solutions (like) apps, but if the highway is very small, it’s always going to be congested,” the minister said.
“You cuba (try) lah, use YouTube. When I click on a video, I always get this ‘circle’ thing (which means the video is buffering). After a while, I get fed up. I close the video. We just don’t have the speed. I hope the telcos would make the ‘roads’ wider.”
The challenges of building a better broadband infrastructure in Sarawak are great.
Like the Pan Borneo trunk road, it requires a lot of investment, but will not serve a whole lot of people. A kilometre of fibre optic laid in Kuala Lumpur will always benefit a lot more users than a kilometre of fibre optic laid in Petra Jaya.
Which is why it is impossible
to fault TM for not speeding up
its implementation of UniFi in Sarawak.
Even in Peninsular Malaysia, UniFi infrastructure covers only narrow slivers of the highly populated urban centres.
When I listened to last year’s Budget being unveiled in Parliament, and then its subsequent debates, it made me chuckle at how out of touch most of our decision-makers were on ICT matters.
Few actually know what they meant when they were trumpeting “empat megabit sesaat” (4Mbps), or understand the difference between a bit and a byte.
Given TM’s priority to wire up highly populated areas in Peninsular Malaysia first, and the Federal Government’s lacklustre ICT focus,
it is really up to the Sarawak government to adopt policies that will
hasten this pace of improvement.
On that note, it was heartening to hear from Johari that his Housing Ministry would be adopting higher density housing developments in the near future; whereas it was only a few years ago that Johari said the state would maintain its low density housing preference since it had so much land.
I had disagreed with that back then because low-density, while it might mean more people getting to have landed properties, it also meant high development cost.
With low density guidelines in place, the growing population are always pushed outwards, necessitating more spending on basic infrastructure.
Johari is certainly right on both counts; TM should speed up its development in Sarawak and at the same time, we need to lower our own costs to them.