Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Broadband penetration rate lowest in Sabah – The reality

For the record, Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Dr Yee Moh Chai on November 8, 2011 said the Internet broadband penetration in the state had reached 33 percent, exceeding the 25 percent target set by the federal government.

This, he declared was proof that the federal government listened to the people, as well as state leaders who wished to see a wider broadband reach in Sabah.

Earlier, on June 11 of the same year, Dr Yee was reported by Bernama as lamenting that Sabah had the lowest broadband penetration rate among states in Malaysia.

He claimed that broadband coverage in Sabah had failed to touch the 30 percent target.

Its quite mind-boggling to hear that he has been hitting at the agency in charge for what is alleged as allowing Sabah to be lagging still in this area.

To be fair to the Ministry of Information, Communications and Culture, given the disparate make up of the land in Sabah, it comes as no surprise that in endeavouring to be practical rather than to pander to populism, the target for Sabah was 30 percent, compared to 50 percent nationwide under the National Broadband Initiative rolled out in 2010.

It is all rather confusing here, as Dr Yee in Nov 8, 2011 said the state had reached 33 percent in broadband penetration, which according to him had breached the 25 percent federal government target.

What transpired resulted from the good deputy Chief Minister’s observation sometime in 2008 that Sabah’s broadband penetration rate was at a dismal 11.9 percent, compared to Kuala Lumpur (41.5 percent), Labuan (14.4 percent) and Penang (26.0 percent).

The change then came under the government blueprint known as the MyCMS886, which was introduced as a strategy to draw linkages and synergies of existing plans and programmes to promote and develop the ICT industry in Malaysia.

To help expedite the process the Sabah state government had complemented the initiative by embarking on things such as the e-desa Kundasang that targeted rural communities in Kampung Bundu Tuhan.

The others included the e-community centre in Kampung Sungai Damit, Tuaran, in Kimanis, Kanibongan, Pitas and Kampung Sukau.

These, he said had helped narrow the digital divide.

Under the Universal Service Provider programme (USP) rolled out for five years from 2010, Sabah had been allocated RM383mil under which would be set up community broadband centres, broadband libraries and underserved areas. This was also to be facilitated with the construction of at least 212 transmission towers to widen the reach of mobile coverage.

Hence, in all Sabah a minimum of 500 villages had been identified as priority areas for wireless broadband and general ICT development.

Meeting half way in fast tracking the ministry’s initiative for Sabah, the state government planned to expand network to 85 centres over the duration of the 10th Malaysia Plan, which runs from 2011-2015.

The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) had cautioned that appraisal of broadband reach out must be done with an eye to the fact that “…household penetration in Malaysia and Sabah may make broadband usage seem considerably lower than it actually is, as "most Malaysians prefer to use the internet in their offices, cybercafés, schools, libraries, community centres and other places, rather than subscribing to it at home".

It must also be noted that a more robust development of the ICT initiative in Sabah is two-pronged, where public-private joint venture will ensure a better communications backbone with the development of high capacity fibre network linking all of Sabah’s major settlements.

The network is expected to be an important facilitator for economic development and growth. Sabah’s internet traffic is currently routed through a hub in Kuala Lumpur passing through a submarine cable connecting the peninsula with Kota Kinabalu.

Such are the plans to assist Sabah in procuring a better connectedness on the information super highway.

However, things must be balanced as the challenge for Sabah’s ICT development is the relative difficulty of infrastructure construction for optimum population coverage. This is because Sabah is Malaysia’s second-biggest state by size, and the distances involved are large. The population is scattered and even the main towns, in which a large proportion of the population are concentrated, are often far apart.

Add to this the topography, comprising mountains and deep jungles that predominate. As such it is a fact that infrastructure must also stand up to the hot, humid climate and regular adverse weather conditions such as tropical storms.

Therefore, the state and federal governments invariably play a central role in ICT infrastructure investment, in partnership with the private sector.

To cap it all for the moment, Deputy Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Joseph Salang said the low penetration rate in Sabah was not the real issue because coverage had increased tremendously, along with service quality.

However, as the purveyors of ICT in Malaysia, this comes not as an excuse, as the MCMC is trying to determine the reason for the low penetration rate in the state.

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