BROADBAND connectivity is the underlying foundation of a digital economy. It contributes towards a nation’s development. The Inter-national Telecommunications Union reported in 2019 that a 10% increase in broadband penetration in a country could have an impact on GDP growth per capita of up to 1.5%. For a developing nation like Malaysia, the impact on our economy would be even greater.
This is why it is commendable that the Communications and Multimedia Ministry is recommending that the government consider broadband connectivity the country’s third public utility under the upcoming Budget 2021. This will make it as important as electricity and water and ensure that the rakyat will experience decent quality broadband at home or on the move.
In the post-pandemic era, the transformation towards digitalisation is paramount for every sector, regardless of whether it is private or public. Businesses that had a head start and embraced digitalisation before the Covid-19 pandemic hit us are reaping the benefits of the rapid growth of e-commerce and delivery networks. Nevertheless, it is not too late for others to follow suit with growing their online presence and digital sales channels. The crisis that we are facing today should be an opportunity to explore new ways of doing business.
The incentives given by the government such as the Penjana stimulus package’s SME (small and medium enterprises) digitalisation matching grant of RM100mil could facilitate a much-needed digitalisation plan. Together with affordable Internet access, it could ensure an equitable and inclusive digital economy.
The drastic changes in the economy triggered by this crisis necessitate a comprehensive response by all of us as agents in the economic ecosystem. Issues of an over-
reliance on manual foreign labour, mismatch of skillsets and unemployment and the acceleration of new technology adoption have been widely discussed in recent times. Policymakers have also responded in a timely manner with multiple stimulus plans, the first of which was announced early this year. Many of the initiatives under the plans build upon efforts that had already begun; for example, in the manufacturing sector, the government introduced the IR4.0 (Industrial Revolution 4.0) policy “Industry4WRD” to accelerate digital transformation among manufacturers.
While the initiatives have improved the digitalisation rate
in industry, it is still not enough.
A recent survey by the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers
indicates that only 24% of local manufacturers adopted
digital technology before the pandemic began, while another 12% did so after it started. The remaining have yet to start their digital transformation due to a skillset gap, costs and broadband connectivity issues.
Budget 2021 should relook existing plans and past initiatives as a baseline. We should identify the initiatives that have worked versus those that need improvement. Further allocations should then be used to accelerate digital transformation initiatives across all sectors. This includes making broadband connectivity more accessible, improved in experience, and able to support the demand required by the rakyat in a post-pandemic era.
AKMAL AB WAHAB , Kuala Lumpur
Note: The writer is an executive working in the telecommunications industry and an MBA candidate at the Graduate School of Management, International Islamic University Malaysia.