Speed is vital, so is freedom

By Wong Sai Wan (The Star)

Super fast Internet connection is paramount to the future growth of the country but attempts by certain authorities to stifle its usage would render any super speed useless.

TWO weeks ago something very important happened in Kuantan that would forever change the Malaysian way of life — another company was given the green light to operate a high-speed broadband service in the country.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak witnessed the launching of the MSC Malaysia Pahang when the state government unveiled its plans to wire the whole of Kuantan (and eventually the whole state) with fibreoptics to drive the high-speed broadband service.

This also means that Kuantan will be the first place in the country to have such services which could provide speeds of up to 10 megabits per second — compared to just 300 kilobit per second that we have from the normal broadband providers.

The company awarded the licence to do the job was Jalur Lebar Nasional Sdn Bhd (Jalenas) through its subsidiary High Speed Broadband Techno-logy Sdn Bhd, which is a joint ven-ture with Pahang government company Pahang Technology Resources.

Jalenas is expected to invest up to RM10bil in infrastructure and plans to connect up to 2.5 million city homes and offices, making it the world’s largest open access deployment based on a single network operator.

The network will be the country’s first open access fiber-to-the-home high-speed broadband facility and is to take off over the next six months, involving 2,000 homes and offices under the initial roll-out in Kuantan.

The Pahang initiative is the country’s second highspeed broadband project, the first being the National High Speed Broadband handled by TM Bhd which has already started physical work of laying the fibre optic cables to 22 exchange areas.

Next month, TM will commence field testing of its services in Shah Alam, Subang Jaya, Bangsar and Taman Tun Dr. Ismail in the Klang Valley before its full commercial launch in the first quarter of next year.

All this is good news for Internet users but there may be some who will question the need to have two providers. The ICT world has shown repeatedly that competition is the best way of ensuring the best service and technology. Over the years, monopolies in the ICT world have continuously provided services and softwares that often do not deliver as promised on the box.

However, Najib recognised that there must be some synergy between the two companies, like sharing some resources.

“I hope there will be more flexibility in terms of implementation so that more industry players like the Pahang government can contribute to the development of ICT in the country.

“I have taken note of Pahang’s keen interest in the high-speed broadband project and we will speak to TM about it,” he said.

What the Prime Minister meant but did not say was that laying fibre optic cables requires digging and people, no matter how fanatical cyber surfers they may be, would not be happy to see their roads dug up twice.

The Government’s approval for two companies to carry on is a clear indication of the importance placed on the need for people to have easy access to speedy Internet connections.

The Prime Minister pointed out that the Government’s target was that half of the people should have access to the Internet by the end of next year.

“Our challenge now is to meet the target in slightly more than a year from the present rate of 26%. Accor-ding to the Economic Planning Unit, achieving the 50% rate will increase the country’s GDP by 1.2%,” he said.

“This 50% target is one of the Government’s key performance indicators and failure is not an option. We must start to make adjustments to enhance the culture of ICT as a way of life or be left behind.

“Our world especially in communications have changed tremendously. In the past, our day would be incomplete without reading the newspaper but nowadays my day will not be complete without reading my e-mail.”

It was heartening to hear Najib saying this as it meant that Malaysia could soon join many other countries in enjoying good speedy Internet connection – something I have written about several times.

However, my joy was short lived when the Information, Communica-tions, Culture and Arts Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim confirmed reports that the Government was going to censor Internet access ala China filtering system and had even called for tenders for such a software programme.

His reasoned that this was to prevent “undesirable” contents from being viewed by the public especially pornography but such a move smells of George Orwell’s Big Brother spying on the people and deciding what they should or should not read.

Luckily, Najib reacted quickly and rejected any such move saying that there were adequate local laws to regulate cyber contents and there was no need to censor the Internet.

“It would be ineffective to censor the Internet and more importantly the people will not accept this,” he said in reaction to Dr Rais’ move.

The Minister then on Wednesday confirmed that the filtering scheme was scrapped but would instead use available laws to act against those who broke the law.

However, Dr Rais stressed that action must be taken against those who insult religion, spread lies and pornography, or commit sexual harassment via the Internet to teach them “to be careful when using cyber equipment.’’

One gets the feeling that Dr Rais just don’t understand the cyberworld and the Internet unlike Najib who acknowledged that it is now a global culture and way of life.

I hope the Minister’s threat to crackdown on Internet users is not the policy of the Government, otherwise the RM23bil being invested by TM and Jalenas would be a waste of money because a speedy Internet without uncensored contents is no connection at all.