LAST week in this column, I talked about universal service provision (USP) and the need to bridge the digital divide between urban and rural areas as there is a RM3bil fund for it.
But the question is whether there is a workable masterplan in place for that.
Some readers of The Star, including those living in rural areas, called to give their feedback.
The thrust of the comments from rural users is their dissatisfaction with the current Internet/broadband service.
They want the money that is available to be used efficiently.
They want the current level of service improved as some are totally disgusted with the connectivity of the Internet at snail’s pace.
To them, they are paying the same rates as Internet users in the big cities so there should be a balance somewhere.
One respondent had this to say: “(I am) totally disgusted to reside in a rural area. The authorities who are being entrusted with social obligations such as Telekom Malaysia Bhd, Tenaga Nasional Bhd and Syabas are failing in their obligation of providing basic amenities to the rural folks.
“We are paying the same income tax requirement and the same utility bill charges as those staying in big cities.’’
He had signed up for broadband services after reading an advertisement which said: “You can surf anywhere any time’’ only to realise that he had been shortchanged.
He says he has to travel from one small town to a slightly bigger one to surf the Internet.
In an e-mail, he said: “Can you imagine the situation I am going through in the so-called modern technology era in Malaysia.’’
Another caller living in Petaling Jaya was shocked when she was told the house she rented in SS2, Petaling Jaya could not have Internet access as it was too far away from the exchange.
She had to rent another house two streets away to be able to subscribe for the service.
While we can empathise with many of them, there are also a lot of people who have just got used to accepting poor services as part of the culture here.
It may be sad but constructive criticism is a way to improve what is bad and only by doing so can we hopefully see some improvements, provided those in charge want to come out of their silos and listen to the grouses of users and work towards improving their services.
The respondents had this to say about how the RM3bil should be used:
·Every school in Malaysia should have computer labs;
·Upgrade the infrastructure in rural areas for decent Internet speeds and not at snail’s pace;
·Free Internet usage for the first year of service to promote a surfing culture;
·Reduce Interent charges and other related costs so that surfing becomes more affordable;
·Educate more people on benefits of surfing the Net;
·Greatly improve the efficiency of Internet services;
·Treat all Internet users to a big “makan” in a five-star hotel for being patient with the state of broadband service in Malaysia in some areas;
·With RM3bil, there should be first class service, learn from South Korea and Australia on to how to do it;
·A review of the fund is needed to make it available for broader purposes such as promoting network ICT, broadband Internet and convergence services; and
·The inefficiencies in the current level of Interent service are glaring. Set benchmarks for service levels or punish the service providers for inefficient services.
In an economic slowdown, cautious spending should be expected, but at the same time there is a need to lift the quality of service in rural and urban areas.
It may be a tough balancing act but those in rural areas also pay the same rate and deserve better services.
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