Sarawak to set up own telecom company

Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg (file pic) said this was decided by the state cabinet last week as existing telecommunication companies (telcos) were unwilling to extend their services to the rural areas where the customer based was limited.

KUCHING: The Sarawak government will set up its own telecommunication company to improve Internet connectivity in rural ares.

Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg (pic) said this was decided by the state cabinet last week as existing telecommunication companies (telcos) were unwilling to extend their services to the rural areas where the customer based was limited.

All the major telcos, like Celecom Axiata, Maxis and Digi, have operations in Sarawak’s major towns.

Johari said the proposed state-owned telco, which was expected to be set up in one to two years, would help to address the poor Internet penetration in the rural areas as the state could not rely of the existing telcos to do so.

Based on the 2015 census, Sarawak has a population of 2.62 million people and about 46% live in rural areas.

“We have the telecommunication towers but we also need the people to equip them with Internet services to provide connection.

“We cannot depend on the existing telecommunication companies as they are not willing to go to rural areas where the customer based is limited.

“The only way out of this is for us to have our own telecommunication company and we will subsidise them so that the Internet tariff charged to the users is low, ” he added in an interview with state-owned TV Sarawak (TVS) on the Sarawak Budget 2021 last week.

TVS was launched last month.

Johari said about two years ago, the state government started a plan to improve Internet connectivity throughout Sarawak and he was confident that with time, Internet access would be widespread.

According to him, 300 telecommuncation towers statewide, particularly in remote Sarawak, have been constructed and are at various stages of implementation. Construction on a further 300 such towers would start in 2021.

He said as the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has promised to build 646 such towers in Sarawak, the state would have more than 1,200 towers by 2023.

When tabling the State Budget 2021, Johari, who is also state Finance Minister and Economic Planning Minister, said the state government was committed to spearhead the digital economy initiative to optimise the potential of digital technology and digitalisation to leapfrog Sarawak towards a high-income economy by 2023.

In 2021, Sarawak approved RM540mil to fund the various digital initiatives, which include enhancing digital connectivity in the rural areas, by providing free Internet connection via SarawakNet infrastructure VSAT technology, with a capacity of 20mbps and 30mbps bandwidth per site through a funding allocation of RM16.5mil.

Johari also recently approved RM150mil to expand WiFi coverage to all places by zones in Sarawak.

Reiterating that Internet was a crucial infrastructure and no longer a luxury, he said it was part of the state’s development components, besides constructing roads and bridges to link up rural areas to towns as well as provision of water and electricity to the entire population.

“My target is for these components to be resolved by 2023.

“What is left now is for us to develop our human talent, ” he added.

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