Connecting Malaysia digitally

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail (centre), together with Gobind (left) and MCMC chairman Al-Ishsal Ishak at the NFCP launch in Putrajaya earlier in September this year.

Where does Malaysia really stand in terms of Internet connectivity? Well, according to one measurement – average fixed broadband speed – from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) Industry Performance 2018 report, the country moved up from 32nd in the world from 56th in 2017, a commendable improvement.

However, things can surely improve further, which is the reason why the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia’s National Fiberisation and Connectivity Plan (NFCP) 2019-2023 was finally unveiled in September after being proposed earlier in the year.

The essence of the NFCP boils down to three overarching targets, namely coverage, broadband package pricing and speed.

The five-year plan has seven targets, including lowering entry-level fixed broadband packages to 1% of the Gross National Income (GNI) by next year; upgrading Internet speed to gigabit level in selected industrial areas by 2020 and all state capitals by 2023; completing Internet availability for premises in state capitals and selected high impact areas with a minimum speed of 500 mbps; ensuring 20% availability for premises in suburban and rural areas with up to 500 mbps by 2022; widening fibre networks coverage for 70% of schools, hospitals, libraries, police stations and post offices by 2022; average speeds of 30 mbps in 98% of populated areas by 2023, as well as improving mobile coverage along the Pan Borneo Highway following its completion.

MCMC chairman Al-Ishsal Ishak (left) and Gobind (second from left) try out the high-speed broadband service after the pilot project of the NFCP in Jasin, Melaka.MCMC chairman Al-Ishsal Ishak (left) and Gobind (second from left) try out the high-speed broadband service after the pilot project of the NFCP in Jasin, Melaka.

NFCP is estimated to cost RM21.6bil, with between RM10bil and RM11bil to come from the Universal Service Provision Fund and the remainder to come from the private sector.

Lower Internet price

packagesMCMC senior infrastructure director Bukhari Yahya pointed out that the government is well on its way to fulfilling its promise of lower Internet package prices, as the average price has lowered by 49% in the past 18 months.

“Price is one of the main issues and the NFCP will address it further, ” he said, adding that Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo is placing priority on both Internet speed and price.

Lower prices were also helped along by the implementation of the Mandatory Standard on Access Pricing last year, which regulates wholesale prices for high speed broadband services.

One of the goals under the plan is to widen fibre networks coverage to 70% of schools, hospitals, libraries, police stations and post offices by 2022.One of the goals under the plan is to widen fibre networks coverage to 70% of schools, hospitals, libraries, police stations and post offices by 2022.

According to the same report, entry-level high-speed broadband packages have recorded more than 30% reduction in December 2018, surpassing the initial 25% target. Telecommunications providers have also done their part by offering higher speeds with the same, or lower, prices.

Bukhari shared, “The benchmark entry-level pricing for Internet services is based on developed countries’ benchmarks. It is also part of the efforts by the government to widen Internet accessibility so that Malaysians can enjoy the digital lifestyle and be involved in the digital economy.”

The targets under the NCFP involve both policy and infrastructure development, with six of the seven targets involving the latter. The main target for next year is to lower Internet pricing to 1% of GNI.

“We’ve been coordinating with the state governments over the past year on policy and the tender process for the infrastructure is ongoing, ” he said.

However, the success of the NFCP will also depend on the cooperation and coordination of the private sector and other federal and state agencies. The Communications and Multimedia Ministry is working closely with private telecommunications players to address the “coverage gap” to ensure there is no duplication of infrastructure.

As this also involves the construction of telecommunications towers, transmitters and fibre optic infrastructure on state land, there is also the need to seek permission from state governments.

During its discussions with state governments, MCMC has already suggested the setting up of state-level committees to look into issues such as objections over the construction of towers or transmitters due to radiation.

Bukhari noted that there is a need to optimise cost since the government and the private sector will be financing the NFCP jointly.

“The private telecommunications operators have their own network, but there are areas that are not covered, so we need to make decisions on who should construct the infrastructure for a particular area, ” he added.

Some areas will have multiple operators providing services, but other areas may only have one, so this will be discussed with the private sector players.

In addition, the government has also allocated a further RM250mil in Budget 2020 for satellite broadband connectivity to address the coverage gap in interior areas that cannot be easily linked through fibre optic or microwave infrastructure.

Gobind at the launch of the NFCP in Putrajaya in September.Gobind at the launch of the NFCP in Putrajaya in September.

Internet as an enabler

Ultimately, Bukhari noted that the strategy is to ensure that no one gets left behind where Internet connectivity is concerned.

“The Internet can be an enabler, particularly for those living in rural areas and it is also in line with the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 (SPV 2030), ” he opined, adding that one of the guiding principles of SPV 2030 is inclusivity and “development for all”.

Aside from that, the NFCP touches on bridging the rural-urban divide in terms of connectivity, while acknowledging its importance in enabling Malaysia’s citizens to participate in an economy increasingly being transformed or disrupted by the adoption of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies.

He explained, “One of the targets is to ensure that 98% of Malaysians can access the Internet with an average speed of 30 mbps, because we noted that online transactions can be done effectively at this speed.

“When people from the villages or interior areas get this level of Internet speed, they’ll also have a choice or alternative to participate in the digital economy, as the Internet can facilitate the marketing of their products that otherwise will not be known about.”

Bukhari says the government will be releasing more announcements in the coming months on the NFCP, beyond what has already been announced and will include more information on meeting the immediate targets.

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