Among the states having poor connectivity coverage is undoubtedly Sabah and Sarawak, the glaring disparity was evident during the MCO and till now. Despite the national fiberisation project mooted 10 years ago, East Malaysia was always out of the radar due to its commercial viability and sparse landmass. Telecommunication company just could not find the ROI in venturing across the ocean in a big way.
Fed-up with the reluctance, the Sarawak government is taking the matter into its own hands, Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari is seriously contemplating in establishing a state owned telecommunication company (telco) within the next two years. This is to expedite internet connectivity in the rural areas, which is feeling the brunt of the digital alienation. When the pandemic hit, schools were all closed and students were directed to continue their classes online, this is were the Federal Government witnessed first hand on the magnitude of the problem the country was facing. Tens of thousands of students did not have basic connectivity in their area, and were left out in their education for more than 8 months.
According to the Chief Minister, the decision to set up the telco was made to overcome the reluctance among telcos to expand their internet services into Sarawak’s rural areas, which they deemed to be not profitable.
“So the way out for the (state) government is to have its own telco and we will subsidise our telco so that the tariff for its services is low,” he added.
The Communication Ministry, Sarawak Multimedia Authority together with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission had earlier initiated plans to build 1246 communication towers in the State, however the bigger issue is of the operators refusal to use these towers. Again the issue of investment versus returns is holding back the corporation run telco’s who are obliged to shareholders.
To fast track the roll out and not wanting Sarawak people to be left behind in the country’s digital aspiration, Johari also revealed that he had approved RM150 million to start a project to expand WiFi coverage in the state through the zone system. The hope is for telco’s to expand their services on established networks rather than needing to build their own, perhaps with lower entry investment and seeing the user growth could spark their interest.