Six shortlisted for RM1.5bil school Internet contract

By B K Sidhu, The Star

PETALING JAYA: Six companies are in the running for the RM1.5bil five-year contract to provide Internet access and a virtual learning module (VLM) platform for the 9,924 schools in the country under the 1Bestarinet project, sources said.

The six are said to be Celcom Axiata Bhd, Jaring Communications, Maxis Bhd, YTL Communications, Multimedia Synergy Corp and both Telekom Malaysia Bhd/Time dotCom Bhd, which submitted a joint bid.

The access job comes with an option to extend the contract period for another five plus five years, totalling 15 years, and this would include installation, maintenance and provision of a VLM.

Though the Government is looking at RM4.5bil as the absolute sum for the 15-year contract, those in the know claim the bids received thus far ranged from RM2bil to RM6bil. At RM4.5bil, it works out to RM1.5bil for every 5 years or RM300mil for each year.

A decision on the winner is expected sometime in the middle of next month, sources said, adding that the Government should insist on proof of concept before deployment to avoid issues and problems arising later. The plan is to roll out access to at least 7,000 schools by Jan 1, 2012.

The poser now is which company should win the 15-year contract.

“Even before 1Bestarinet came about, some of the parties vying for the contract have been lobbying for it. Whatever the decision, it should be based on merits and the focus should be on deliverables as we cannot afford a repeat of the Schoolnet episode. Choose those that can deliver, those that have the financial muscle, the capacity and capabilities and not those that compromise on quality for profits,” said a source.

“The last thing we want is our future generation being deprived of basic Internet access because of some companies which can’t have enough profits from the project and the Government is committed because the contract would be binding for 15 years,” added the source.

IBestarinet came about as a result of the Pemandu national key economic area lab series as there is a need to provide Internet access to all schools in the country since the earlier project to wire up schools, Schoolnet, did not meet the objectives set.

To recap, Schoolnet was born in 2004 to wire up schools using wireless or fibre technology but it had major constraints and did not live up to expectations in terms of speed and capacity, and also due to lack of specifications and integration.

Hence, in May this year, the Education Ministry called for a tender bid for the wiring up of all schools under the 1Bestarinet project and in the tender’s posting it was clearly stipulated that the tender was open to all local companies with preference given to bumiputra tender bids registered with the Finance Ministry under some codes stipulated.

This tender bid which opened on May 5 saw over 80 companies collecting the tender documents. At its closing on May 31, it is said that only 19 companies submitted their bids. The six shortlisted are from the 19 that submitted bids.

Given its past experiences with Schoolnet, the ministry had spelt out certain conditions for 1Bestarinet. It wants the future network to be scalable to cater for growth and to evolve with technological evolution. It should have a VLM which will allow teachers and students, among others, to have a platform to write plans and share ideas. The Internet speed has to be constant and cannot be based on “best effort.” For urban areas, the access speed is 2Mbps to 10Mbps, and for rural and remote schools 1Mbps to 4Mbps. All sorts of technologies can be used, be it fibre or wireless technologies including Vsat, wireless, WiFi, but the link to the school should be via fibre.

“The Education Ministry will also have an inbuilt checking mechanism to ensure that the vendor delivers as per specifications,” said a source.