PETALING JAYA: The rollout of a RM4.6bil tender to improve rural Internet connectivity has been delayed and this would only drag on a little longer before any improvement in countryside connectivity.
The delay was revealed a day before Christmas when the telecoms industry regulator Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission posted a notice on its website, saying it wants to revise the eligibility criteria and scope of work for the tender for infrastructure works based on documents it released on Nov 20.
But this could also mean better services for rural Malaysia once Internet infrastructure is made available.
The commission will issue a revised invitation on Jan 20 for players to register interest by Feb 2. The final submission can be made on April 30, a month later than the November documents.
All players that submitted based on the November documents will need to re-do their interest submission.
“Why the change in criteria and scope of work is unclear. This certainly drags the entire process of rural connectivity.
“The earlier tender documents issued in May under NFCP-2 were also withdrawn and replaced with the Nov 20 set. Now even that is pulled back, ’’ an industry executive told StarBiz.
Another executive added that “the funding is there via the USP (Universal Service Provision) funds but the pace of rural connectivity is slow. There has also been no real claw back of the USP funds to the players since 2017/18.’’ The USP is basically funded by the telecoms players.
The May documents were in relation to the National Fiberisation and Connectivity Plan (NFCP), which has been superseded by the RM21bil Jendela (National Digital Infrastructure) initiative launched in September.
With that, the NFCP-2 tender was withdrawn as it did not meet the enhanced specifications required to address the new connectivity demands as per the Jendela plan.
The last tender issued was in January this year to two companies for 152 sites under NFCP-1.
The idea of Jendela is to provide a wider coverage and faster connectivity including in semi-urban and rural areas.
The change made from NFCP-2 to Jendela-1 was the sites – from 500 to three times more at 1,661. The NFCP focused on 3G and 4G technologies but since 3G will sunset in a year’s time, it was removed from the November documents.
Interestingly, the Jendela-1 tender plan is structured in a way that those with 900MHz bandwidth are eligible for it. That narrows it to only four mobile players, claims some industry executives.
It is up to players to appoint tower installers for better control and delivery.
However, in the past, it was an open bid for radio and tower works. The regulator may have its reasons for such criteria in the November documents due to the urgency to provide connectivity and for better control.
“This could possibly be the point of contention for the regulator to review the criteria again.
“Surely those installing towers want a slice of the contracts and they want to submit bids themselves instead of via telecoms players, ’’ said an industry source.
He added that the reasons could be related to 5G. It is necessary to ensure that the equipment put in today is scalable when 5G is available.
“Whatever the reasons, connectivity to rural areas should be accelerated as students in those states should not have to go to high grounds to sit for exams anymore, ’’ he adds.
Did you find this article insightful?
100% readers found this article insightful