The Government has finally admitted that the quality of Internet service in the country is bad.
Kudos to Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim for highlighting the plight of long suffering consumers. He said on Wednesday that “consumers main grouse is that they are charged more compared to users in other countries but the quality of service is not up to mark.”
“If they (telcos) promised Internet speed at 10 megabits per second, the public should not be experiencing a slow-as-tortoise service at one or two megabits,” he added.
Rais has asked for a task force led by the industry’s regulator to be set up to look into this problem.
A recent study on Internet quality conducted by Oxford University and sponsored by Cisco also pointed out that Malaysia was ranked a poor 48th among 66 countries surveyed.
It listed Malaysia as having Internet broadband speeds which were “below today’s applications threshold.” That comes as no surprise but the admission does surprise many.
Consumers have been grumbling for a long time in different ways. Even some service providers have voiced out on the lack of equal access to infrastructure, especially the so-called “last mile” access.
If there is indeed access, it is pricey for the service providers and that means the consumers will also have to pay a lot for broadband services.
It is a known fact in the industry that some operators are holding on to their last mile. The sharing of infrastructure is also not so liberal and telcos are really not competing in a level playing field.
The sector is really not so liberal despite all the talk of liberalisation, and that is also why consumers are not getting the kind of broadband quality they deserve.
What the Malaysia-Australia Business Council said recently about our broadband service quality is also true in some context.
They can help bring in foreign direct investments (FDI) from Australia but if our telecoms infrastructure is not up to mark, these investors are not going to come as there are choices in other emerging markets.
The country must realise that good telecoms infrastructure allows access to the world, which in turn attracts FDIs. Had we kept our broadband quality in check from the onset, we could have been better than Singapore, or be at least on par. But today, we pale in comparison.
Malaysia will continue to play second fiddle to emerging economies like Vietnam and Indonesia if the Government does not do something to improve the quality of broadband service.
Access to information has empowered societies and communities globally, and we really do not want to be left out. By having such bad service quality, the telcos are actually hindering the progress of businesses, especially those which depend heavily on telecoms infrastructure.
Likewise, consumers are deprived of the huge potential the Internet offers. It is good that someone is finally listening to the consumer but will all this lashing-out and setting up of a task force be another “hot air and zero action” exercise?
It is only through execution that consumers will be able to feel the difference and realise the country’s ambition of creating a knowledge- and innovation-based society.
Ideas, innovation and knowledge are the currencies of the new economy and telcos must take cognisance of that. Failure to do so will mean a continuation of what has been happening for so long, that is, seeing our neighbours and rivals get ahead of us.
l B.K. Sidhu is deputy news editor. She hopes the day will soon come when the rental for fixed lines is abolished.