|Issue:||Asia-Pacific I 2005|
|Topic:||Pervasive connectivity—Towards building a knowledge society in Malaysia|
|Author:||The Honourable Dato’ Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik|
|Title:||Minister of Energy, Water and Communications|
The Honourable Dato’ Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik, is the Minister of Energy, Water and Communications of Malaysia. He is the President of the People’s Movement Party (Gerakan), within the National Front governing party of Malaysia. Honourable Dato’ Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik was appointed a Senator in 1972 and a Minister with Special Functions in the Malaysian Cabinet. Dr Lim Keng Yaik later served in the State Government of Perak, but returned to the Federal Cabinet as Minister of Primary Industries. Dr Lim Keng Yaik has participated in international conferences including the GATT Negotiations, Rio Earth Summit, Cairns Group Meeting and many others. Honourable Dato’ Dr Lim Keng Yaik served as the Chairman of the Associations of Tin Producing Countries and Vice-President of the World WUSHU Federation, among others. Dr Lim Keng Yaik led the Malaysian delegation in the negotiations for the Forest Principles at the Rio Earth Summit and has actively participated in international Forests and Timber conferences. Honourable Dato’ Dr Lim Keng Yaik graduated with a degree in Medicine and Surgery from Queens University, Belfast, Ireland and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Law by Queens University of Belfast, Ireland.
Malaysia needs to build its ICT infrastructure and increase the effective use of information technology. The government is guiding the country’s transition from a low technology, labour-intensive economy to a high value-added economy. It is extending access to all segments of society, from school children to senior citizens, urban and rural residents, to businessmen and housewives. To create a critical mass of users and applications, Malaysia has provided access in government departments, schools, universities, research institutions, hospitals and clinics, libraries and community centres.
Harnessing ICT for Malaysia’s future In an era that fosters a knowledge-based economy, the role of information and communications technology (ICT) is increasingly pervasive. This is particularly so in the Malaysian context with the government determined to hasten the development of a vibrant and dynamic information and knowledge-based economy and society through the use of ICT. The Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) launched in 1996, was conceived to provide the impetus for the Malaysian information economy and remains a driving force towards pervasive connectivity today. Since its launch, the MSC has generated 21, 200 knowledge worker jobs and sales of RM5.8 billion (US$1.5 billion) in 2003 or 1.5 per cent contribution to GDP and 0.2 per cent of the labour force. As a starter, the MSC has done well, considering that it was set up to be a test bed for new applications and to attract foreign investment in high technology. However, more remains to be done. The second phase rollout of the MSC will feature MSC status incubation in the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone in Pulau Pinang and the Kulim High-Technology Park in Kedah. This phase aims to add 100,000 high value-added jobs to the MSC. MSC development should not stop here. Industrial incubation has to accelerate nationwide to spur take-up of ICT by all Malaysians and businesses to reap the benefits of productivity gains, competitive business advantage, opportunity for innovation and growth towards a knowledge economy. Collaborative efforts to leapfrog national development The transition from a low technology and labour-intensive economy to a high value-added economy would produce great economic rewards. Nevertheless, achieving a knowledge economy requires national effort, in which, all stakeholders–the government and private sector, consumers and businesses–need to address the pressing issues of pervasive connectivity. The government and private sector need to provide consumers and businesses alike with the necessary communications services at acceptable quality and price. The public and consumers need to embrace ICT, use it to their advantage and make it part of the very fabric of our society. Spearheading connectivity The challenge of getting everyone in Malaysia connected today is to provide users with affordable access. The ability of broadband to narrow the digital divide need not be debated, given the experience of users throughout the world. Widespread use of broadband for high speed Internet is crucial if we are to maintain our competitive edge in an Internet savvy global market. Malaysia’s broadband penetration rate today is less than one per cent; this is a stumbling block to the development of future technologies and an information-based society, ready to compete in the global economy. Affordable broadband is essential to narrowing the digital divide and enriching the lives of citizens with applications such as e-health, e-transactions, e-education and e-recreation. The development of Malaysia’s telecommunications infrastructure calls for a high- priority national project to encourage further investment in broadband and facilitate Internet deployment. Accordingly, the government formulated its National Broadband Plan to stimulate the rollout of nationwide access to broadband communications services by fostering a supportive relationship with the private sector. Technology neutrality The government favours technological flexibility and inter-operability to create an environment that thrives on pro-competition policies and prudent infrastructure investment. This will ensure that market forces will prevail and spur the investment and innovation needed to meet the needs of consumers and stakeholders. Technology neutrality helps maximise the speed of rollout, and faster, cheaper, access. As outlined in the Communications and Multimedia Act of 1998, technological neutrality permits operators to freely choose and mix technologies to serve user needs. This helps to minimise cost and maximise operating efficiency, narrowing the market efficiency gap. Nevertheless, a degree of standardisation is needed to ensure equipment inter-operability. Quality of Service (QoS) Instituting a minimum quality of service standard is essential to ensure that services meet user requirements and provide value for money. Consumer awareness and discernment needs to be raised not only in regards to quality of service, but also to high-speed Internet access. Last mile bottlenecks Deployment efforts are thwarted by ‘last mile’ connection bottlenecks. Government intervention, by instituting an interconnection and peering regime and creating a transparent legal and regulatory framework to ensure continuous operating efficiency, can remove roadblocks to investment in broadband deployment. Demand and supply aggregation A concerted effort, by both the government and private sector, is needed to stimulate aggregate demand and supply so that broadband connections can reach critical mass. Mass-market applications, as with online games in Korea, hit the threshold of critical mass and accordingly stimulate demand for fast, high capacity broadband. Thus, to catalyse the aggregation of supply and demand, there needs to be wide-scale promotion of the usage of applications for the public and businesses. Towards this end, the National Broadband Plan serves to start aggregating demand amongst various communities, the private sector and home users. Communities include government departments, schools, universities, research institutions, hospitals and clinics, libraries and community centres. The e-government network will connect all e-government applications to about 84,000 terminals in 900 departments at Federal, State and District levels. Schoolnet will provide all 10,000 schools in the country with broadband connections. The Smart School curriculum will be available on the web at these schools. With Schoolnet, the distinction between Smart Schools, urban schools and rural schools should be greatly reduced. Malaysia Research and Education Network (MYREN) is a network of research institutions and institutions of higher learning. The network will be operational at the end of this year with 12 major universities of Malaysia on-board. Upon stabilisation, other research entities would be taken on-board. MYREN would be connected to external resources and partner networks in Europe, East Asia and other countries to exploit the fullest benefits for our R&D entities. Other broadband networks such as the telehealth network, telecentres network, the library network and private networks will join the national broadband network. The government aims to create a critical mass; a penetration rate of five per cent by the year 2006 and ten per cent by 2008, to attract industry players to rollout last mile infrastructure, including to domestic users. In the industrial sector, incentives will be given to small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) to make greater usage of ICT, to produce goods with higher added value and to venture into new areas using cutting edge technologies. The thrust of this strategy is to spur domestic investment in SMEs. SMEs are encouraged to invest in ICT and upgrade their technology through tax rebates/relief, grants and by facilitating R&D and R&D commercialisation. The government has endeavoured to improve access to financing and seed capital as well as increased allocation of government-administered soft loans for these purposes. Narrowing the digital divide The digital divide is a socio-economic problem caused by unequal access to ICT for obtaining and leveraging information/knowledge within a society. Lack of physical access, lack of IT literacy, lack of suitable content, or the high cost of access can cause this. The Malaysian Government has established clear policies regarding the digital divide, based on the principles of availability, accessibility and affordability. Those living in the rural areas are far less likely to own computers, use the Internet or take advantage of new technologies than those who reside in urban areas. As a result, the outreach of the digital age is proceeding unevenly with the gap widening with time. This digital exclusion can have serious economic consequences for those who live in rural areas. The government is undertaking a variety of initiatives to bridge the digital divide between the urban and rural areas, among them are Universal Service Programme (USP), the One Home One PC Project and the Rural Internet Programme. Universal Service Programme (USP) was introduced with funds from both the government and the industry to help increase coverage of physical access. By providing network services, USP will give people individual and collective access to information and to the tools for knowledge building, to develop their potential and that of the nation. Equitable access and balanced development of urban and rural areas will help bridge the gap between the ‘information rich’ and ‘information poor.’ The government and local telecommunications service providers jointly fund USP. The One Home One PC Project was initiated in March 2004 by the government in collaboration with Association of the Computer and Multimedia Industry of Malaysia (PIKOM). It is designed to increase PC and Internet penetration as well as digital literacy amongst the Malaysian society. The Rural Internet Programme, in partnership with the postal organisation, Pos Malaysia and the local community, aims at bringing technology and ICT closer to rural communities. To date, 42 Centres located at Post Offices have been established nationwide. The Programme focuses on youth, women and senior citizens. The programme was conceived to provide a one-stop centre for e-government (G2C and G2B), e-learning, knowledge exchange, on-line examination centre, e-community, e-certification centre and centre for application development with shared resources. Profit orientation versus social obligation There needs to be a balance between a service provider’s priorities of producing profit and its responsibilities towards society. To this end, service provider activities need to be aligned to national development objectives. The communications and multimedia sector enables other industries and therefore contributes directly and indirectly to Malaysia’s gross national product. Hence, where market forces and competition govern private sector participation, the government can act to mandate the rollout of services to underserved populations where necessary. Content development The promotion of creative content development is in line with the country’s vision to be a global ICT and multimedia hub. The fast growth of networked communications will intensify the demand and growth of content-based services and vice versa. The MSC flagship applications provide a platform for the development of multimedia capability, spearheading growth in the content industries in areas such as e-Learning, e-Community, e-Public services, e-Economy and e-Sovereignty. Whilst contents for underserved communities such as minority ethnic groups as well as for the disabled are still lacking due to high development costs, various ministries and agencies in the country are collaborating in pursuing this agenda. Development of human capital and productive labour force Government policies need be constantly tuned to the development of knowledge workers and highly skilled workers to drive a knowledge economy. The government has introduced incentives and measures to advance ICT skills, for example 3D animation and various skills development programmes and vocational and technical training institutions for youths. The government provides tax rebates to spur PC ownership and encourage individual ICT usage. Malaysia has low wages, and relatively high literacy rates and language skills — advantages when vying to provide online information processing for multinational corporations. However, we risk losing this advantage if our ICT and communications industries are not up to speed. Teleworking is an important use of ICT; it provides a way to capitalise untapped `human resources. The externalisation and delocalisation of employment and work, made possible by electronic connectedness, permits formerly isolated segments of the society to join the workforce. Teleworking lets homemakers raising children, many well educated, to work from home. Malaysian women, reportedly, comprise 36 per cent of the country’s Internet users. Similarly, disabled individuals can now work from home or create home-based businesses. Conclusion ICT enables the equitable distribution and dissemination of knowledge and information. Pervasive connectivity is needed to bring the Internet to everyone so that knowledge and information prevail in every facet of our daily lives. To achieve this, government, private sector and citizens alike need to act individually and collectively to make a Malaysian information society a reality. Tremendous opportunities lie ahead, but high-speed connectivity will be needed to reap the benefits of the advanced technologies and applications required to compete regionally and globally. The urgency of high-speed Internet deployment cannot be emphasised sufficiently. Communications service providers must meet their social obligations and help fulfil the national goal of building a connected information society and a knowledge-based economy to face the challenges of this era.