Sabah gets RM383mil to bridge ‘digital divide’

  • Technology
  • Friday, 25 Jun 2010

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah has been allocated RM383mil under the Universal Service Provider (USP) programme to bridge the “digital divide,” that gap between technology haves and have nots.

The programme is being implemented over five years from this year. It will also see the investment spread among targeted underserved groups (RM8mil), community broadband centres (RM55mil) and 14 broadband libraries (RM22mil).

The remaining amount goes to the construction of 212 towers for expansion of cellular coverage, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (SKMM) said.

“From February this year, 60 towers are being built in order to widen the cellular coverage which extends to only 75% of the inhabited areas in the state.

“It will ensure more people in the rural areas are able to enjoy cellular phone services,” the SKMM said in a written response to Bernama.

The Commission is also confident that Sabah will reach the 30% broadband household penetration rate target by year end, while the country is on track to meet the National Broadband Initiative (NBI) of 50% household penetration at the same time.

“The target for Sabah was set lower due to the poor broadband performance but the household penetration rate has been increasing and was at 17.1% as of June 9.

“The target of 30.1% broadband household penetration by the end of the year is achievable for Sabah. The current penetration rate for the country is at 37%,” the SKMM said.

On target

State Resource Development and Information Technology Minister Datuk Dr Yee Moh Chai when contacted, echoed the same positive sentiment, saying that barring unforeseen circumstances, Sabah will be able to achieve the target.

“Moving forward, we will continue with the present programme, which is to build more facilities with broadband service providers.

“This to ensure broadband penetration at least in most major towns, and hopefully in the rural areas with a higher concetration of population,” he told Bernama.

According to the SKMM, there are more challenges in east Malaysia for broadband expansion because Sabah and Sarawak are amongst the largest states in the country, with a massive demand and need for widely available broadband access.

“Current broadband technologies cannot cope with the scattered population pattern and diverse geographical conditions prevalent in both states.

“Service providers are facing challenges in terms of diverse demographics and high capital costs to roll out initiatives.

“Cost competitive access infrastructure is the key to bridge the information divide, and services providers have been working hard to explore various technology options,” the SKMM pointed out.

Besides these challenges, the SKMM said, other factors are low earning capacity, lack of human capital, high operating costs, fast moving technology and need for strong community support.

Internet centres

In a related development, the SKMM said the Government has provided additional incentives in the 2010 Budget to expedite broadband development in the country.

“Among the initiatives the Government is committed to implement is the opening of community broadband centres in housing areas. This is intended to benefit 615,000 Malaysians in 246 locations nationwide and RM60mil has been allocated to ensure its success.

“Some 121 offices of the Information Department will provide the people’s Internet centres to enable broadband access to 400,000 users all over Malaysia, while 873 new telecommunications towers will be built to expand cellular coverage nationwide,” it said.

Another initiative is to distribute one million netbooks to needy students throughout the country and RM1bil has been allocated in a move to embrace the lower-income group.

“A RM500 tax relief is also provided in the Budget 2010 for the purchase of such tools, which is an additional motivator,” the SKMM said.

Web oriented

Regionally, the SLMM said, the measurement of broadband penetration varies with each country. It explained that the current indicator of household broadband penetration being used does not fully reflect the real achievement of broadband in Malaysia.

“Other aspects such as PC ownership, IT literacy and skills should be considered to analyse the real achievement.

“The International Telecommunications Union has introduced the ICT Development Index as an indicator for information and communications technology, and broadband achievement.

“Out of the 154 member countries, Malaysia was ranked 52nd in 2007,” said the SKMM.

Also, according to the Internet World Stats in September last year, Malaysia was in sixth spot among Asian countries, based on number of Internet users (65.7%).

“We have about 16 million Internet users and one of the highest number of users on Yahoo!, Facebook and Friendster.

“Also, most Malaysians prefer to use the Internet in their offices, cybercafes, schools, libraries, community centres and other places, rather than subscribing to it at home,” the SKMM added. — Bernama

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