By Farhan Kamarulzaman
Although Minister of Communications and Multimedia Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah has confirmed that the implementation of the National Digital Infrastructure Plan (Jendela) has met the targets set for 2020, the implementation strategies and mechanisms for the next phase in 2021 and subsequent years must be continuously and adequately monitored since this is crucial for its sustainability and longevity.
This includes the issues relating to the challenges, performance and progress to ensure the primary goal of providing all Malaysians with quality access to digital connectivity nationwide is not disrupted or slowed down.
After all, the government is committed to intensifying and vigorously implementing Jendela in 2021 to further improve broadband coverage and usage throughout the country to facilitate the expected higher demand during the new normal and propel the emerging digital economy.
Despite the emergence of Covid-19 which could dampen investment efforts by the government due to critical priority considerations of public health and the economy, the government has pressed ahead with Jendela to further secure the realisation of digital transformation in the country.
This fantastic effort should not be interrupted under any circumstances, especially by the pandemic, as it will spur the country’s aim of elevating Malaysia to the next stage of national development. It also represents our nation’s significant initiative to close the digital gap between the urban and rural areas through better digital connectivity for the rakyat.
It is quite a relief that Jendela’s implementation has reached the goals set this year as we had been bombarded with news about the unsatisfactory Internet access in Malaysia. We can, therefore, assume that there might be something in the government’s sleeve that has effectively addressed the problem.
Notwithstanding, the government should be more specific on the achievements that have been met by 2020 so that the rakyat could observe the plan’s outcomes, especially for rural areas with poor Internet access.
As stated in the first quarterly report of Jendela, the next phase – which takes place around 2021 until 2022 – will have bigger targets to be achieved compared to last year which is to reach around 96.9 per cent of 4G Internet coverage along with 35Mbps mobile speed, and 5G infrastructure planning and preparations.
Considering that, the next phase which needs an investment of approximately RM7.5 million to succeed will require the implementation process to be more than usual compared to 2020, especially in terms of quality and quantity of the execution and better monitoring.
The government has to rigorously ensure that the implementation will be on a timely schedule, perhaps even faster than usual to facilitate the demand during the new normal while combating the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. As in 2020, which is the first phase of Jendela, RM4.95 million was allocated for Jendela to achieve the target of 91.8 per cent of 4G coverage, 25Mbps of mobile speed and the implementation of 5G demo projects.
Given that these are the targets that have been met, it is still unclear why we still observe several “unpleasant” things that came out in the mass media regarding our poor Internet connection, not to mention the digital infrastructure development that is probably hindered due to the pandemic.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also triggered the rise in Internet traffic from 30 to 70 per cent and a drop in Internet speed by between 30 to 40 per cent, which portends the excellent demand for Internet in the new norm that can only increase further later on.
The limited Internet connectivity faced by the rakyat amid the Covid-19 crisis, where a stable Internet connection is critical for the rakyat to enable their daily activities during the current situation, such as online education, e-commerce and virtual communications is hoped to be remedied by the next phase of Jendela to ensure the sustainability and effectiveness of access.
It is a sign that the government has more room for improvements to facilitate the extension of Jendela plan in 2021, especially towards more sustainable and inclusive connectivity infrastructure for the country’s entire population.
Thus, these significant improvements should complement Jendela’s next phase to address the challenges encountered in previous years as the subsequent years would bring even more challenges considering the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, especially the third wave of Covid-19 infection that is difficult for us to predict the end of it.
Otherwise, our country will also be stuck in a rut by having an underdeveloped digital infrastructure without any continuous improvements which will consequently destroy our efforts to succeed in the digital transformation plan.
It may be tough to achieve the goal for the entire population of the country, but it is not impossible to achieve it with the aid of more effective and close government monitoring and supervision, as well as excellent cooperation by the relevant authorities such as the state governments.
To achieve strategic cooperation with the state governments to ensure that the project will succeed and be further strengthened for the next phases, the government must ensure that their state counterparts are well-informed on Jendela’s implementation and execution strategies which will bolster ground preparations and realise its eventual success for the sake of the rakyat.
By citing Johor as an example, the state government has allocated RM2 million for the third phase of Johor Wifi 2.0 for better Internet connectivity, especially in rural areas. As stated by the Johor education, information, heritage and culture committee chairman, Mazlan Bujang, this action is firmly in line with the Jendela plan.
Now this aspect too, i.e. the strategic cooperation between the federal and state governments in the implementation of Jendela also requires stringent monitoring to ensure that the state government or local authority doesn’t fall behind in, for example, providing the necessary approvals for the construction of utilities such as telecommunications towers and fibre optic cabling.
This is especially pertinent when it comes to serving the rakyat in the rural and unreached areas – in light of the new tenders for telco players that go beyond the scope and standards of the previous National Fiberisation and Connectivity Plan (NFCP).
Without robust monitoring put in place for the implementation strategies of Jendela in the coming years, achieving the plan’s real objective, which is to be globally competitive, dynamic, resilient and enriched digital-based society might not be successfully realised.
Farhan Kamarulzaman is a Research Assistant at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.