The broadband catalyst


  • Business
  • Saturday, 10 Apr 2010

THERE is no question of the importance that broadband expansion and enhancement will take the country forward the next several decades.

Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Utama Dr Rais Yatim says: “Broadband is an integral part of the economy. It is the enabler for change as it affects an increasing number of sectors and activities. The direct benefits from investments in the technology and from rolling out the infrastructure are enormous.’’

Speed is needed for fast connections to the Web, to undertake business transactions, e-commerce, e-learning, e-jobs and all the E-stuff.

Video gets a new face with fast speed broadband and this spurs new areas of businesses such as interactive education, IPTV content, online games and financial services. The content industry gets a huge lift as they now have a bigger channel (or pipe) to transport their creations in video and data format, and that means business for the big and small boys.

For the people, it helps to bridge the information gap and creates a knowledge-based society that can use the broadband to acquire new skills, better paying jobs and create new business opportunities.

limitless possibilities

“From advanced nations to developing nations, the arrival of the broadband has led to a change in lifestyle and hike in productivity. Broadband penetration is a catalyst for increased efficiencies in existing economic activities. It also generates new services, which contribute towards increasing the national gross domestic product (GDP),’’ Rais says.

If Malaysia achieves 50% broadband penetration, the net effect is a 1% contribution to the GDP.

“In the United States, a similar rate contributed to 4% of their total GDP, 15% penetration in Britain resulted in 0.6% growth in GDP, and 50% in New Zealand resulted in 0.9% contribution in GDP. In Malaysia, the communications and multimedia industry’s contribution towards the GDP and gross national product is 6% and 7.6% respectively in 2007, he says.

Of course, Rais also points out that with faster speeds he expects the nation to “attract more foreign investments.’’

Competitiveness

But how is our competitive ratings versus our neighbours who are far ahead in fast broadband?

Axiata Group Bhd president & group CEO Datuk Seri Jamaludin Ibrahim believes that “we are ahead in the region in terms of coverage and speed where mobile broadband is concerned and on par with Singapore.

“For fixed-line broadband, we are ahead, but maybe not at the same level as Singapore. Internationally, our broadband speed still has some catching up to do, We are at least 3 years behind developed nations. It will take time to improve but it is also about putting money where the mouth is,’’ he says.

Malaysia is the world’s 27th most networked economy, according to the Global Information Technology Report 2009-2010 released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) recently.

But let’s not forget that Malaysia has had a host of complaints from various industry and chamber groups on the state of our broadband. Often, the complaints are taken lightly, especially by the incumbent and the unhappy investors just go elsewhere where services are better.

“Forget the critics as there are fantastic opportunities with UniFi for investors. We want to invite the MNCs (multinational companies) to locate here. We welcome them and (we assure them) the service is good,’’ says Telekom Malaysia Bhd group CEO Datuk Zamzamzairani Mohd Isa.

Fast broadband can be a huge draw for foreign direct investments, and tourist dollars. It is about how we manage and give our visitors what they pay for.

Hunger for speed, price an issue

There are some Malaysians who have access to fast broadband services. The question is, at what price?

Hours after TM announced its UniFi rates for its broadband services, there was a hue and cry on the blogs that the pricing was unreasonable. At what price are we getting the service and are those the best rates?

Zamzamzairani will have his own argument but the Government has said it will look into making broadband affordable. Singapore’s StarHub, by comparison, is offering a 100Mbps broadband for only S$86.88 (RM202.85) a month while TM is charging RM249 per month for 20Mbps. TM says “don’t compare. That is Singapore.” But TM has to face reality that those are at a rate and speed which are far higher than what it is getting.

Consumers were furious over the cap on speeds and within hours of its launch, TM changed its tune by saying it will lift the cap indefinitely. TM’s argument for the cap is that 6% of its TM Streamyx users are hogging 80% of the capacity, thereby causing others to struggle through their connections.

In the past, we have been suffering from bad services from the broadband operators, including TM. The speeds are not to the level that were advertised.

Now Zamzamzairani is promising the “moon’’ for UniFi. He says: “We will keep our promises and manage expectations.’’

Will there still be downtime, Zamzamzairani says: “We do not plan for a disaster.’’

If we are paying, there should be no comprise and we should switch to the operator who keeps a promise. That goes not just for fast speed broadband, but fixed and wireless services as well.

If the FCC is interested to know whether companies are keeping their word and users are getting what they are pay for, then the regulator here must make good their job of monitoring. By so doing, they will be able to check if the delivery is as promised.

Get it right this time around

HSBB is great. It is the way forward and the beginning of new things. As we move along, there are other countries that are ahead of us, and there are others who are behind. But we must remain in the league of those ahead of us. To do that, we have to do more. Having 1.3 million premises passes should just be the beginning.

We should have, by now, learnt the lessons of providing bad and inconsistency speed and services. We must also remember that the universal service provision (USP) fund is for those in the rural areas and there should be proper check and balances to ensure that this resources are used for the specific purpose.

The opportunity to clean up these loose ends, which benefits the rakyat, investors and regional competitors, are right before us,

As an industry expert puts it, you cannot hookwink consumers in the Internet age. The user wants speed, quality and affordable packages and let’s not lose the moment to do it right this time around. -By B.K. Sidhu

Related Stories: Connectivity to speed up national growth Voice, video and data convergence has finally arrived in Malaysia Broadband – new way to communicate Online – speed rules TM has 900 UniFi customers

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