High fees paid by Internet users could hinder effort to bridge rural-urban digital divide: Taib
The state government hopes the federal government would assist in negotiations with international service providers to get more direct Internet connectivity to Sarawak.Chief Minister Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud said direct links would help cut down tariff charges imposed by international service providers on their local counterparts.
Speaking at the launch of Sarawak Rural Broadband Initiative (SRBI) programme at SK Saint Alphonsus here, he said the toll charges that Internet users pay now are relatively high and this could hinder the effort of the government to bridge the rural-urban digital divide.
“With more direct links to the state, our network will be more economical and viable and can be better expanded in the future,” he said.
The programme was a joint initiative by Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), Danawa Resources Sdn Bhd and Sacofa Sdn Bhd. Deputy Information, Communication and Culture Minister Datuk Joseph Salang Gandum, Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Alfred Jabu Numpang, Minister of Social Development and Urbanisation Dato Sri William Mawan Ikom and Assistant Minister in the Chief Minister’s Department (Human Resource and Training) Datin Fatimah Abdullah, Deputy Secretary- General of Information, Communication and Culture Ministry Datuk Dr Mohd Ali Mohd Nor, deputy state secretary Datu Abdul Ghafur Shariff, Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) chairman Tan Sri Khalid Ramli and SRBI chairman Datuk Abdul Hamed Sepawi were among those who attended the function.
Later at a press conference at Rumah Jana, Taib said the federal government has been slowly introducing computer studies as a regular school subject instead of just a co-curricular activity.
Since 10 years ago, the state government has been giving out minor rural project (MRP) funds for buying computers in an effort to bridge the rural-urban digital gap, he said.
Regarding the Internet, he said students should be encouraged to explore it instead of being forced to study it.
Taib then announced a grant totalling RM200,000 for Rumah Jana to purchase zinc roofing sheets.
Salang who also spoke said the school-net programme was one of the examples of government-introduced computer education in rural schools.
“The government has been spending a lot of money on power generators for schools to allow this programme to run,” he said. The Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture, he said, is urging local authorities to fully cooperate with telecommunication service providers to develop communication infrastructure in the state.
This is important for thestate government to realise its goal of getting 50 per cent of the country’s households on broadband by the end of next year.
Sarawak’s broadband penetration rate is 16.7 pct at the moment and with RM500 million to improve the facilities in the state as well as cooperation from local authorities, the government is optimistic the goal is realisable.
“We have heard a lot of complaints from service providers that they are facing problems with the local authorities, for example, in the construction of telecommunication towers and base stations.
“We want local authorities to cooperate with service providers in building telecommunication infrastructure,” he said, adding that his ministry would continue to work together with the state government through the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) towards achieving the goal.
On a related matter, he said MCMC had contributed RM10 million to the state government for planning and implementing rural ICT development framework in 2008.
In Julau, three longhouses – Rumah Edward Segi, Rumah Changan and Rumah Jana – already have broadband connectivity.
On the SRBI, Salang said it would continue to be deploy extensively to rural areas to bridge the rural-urban digital divide.
On another front, he said telecommunication companies (Telcos) should support such programmes not only by providing good services but also offer lower tariff for their Internet and telephone packages.
“This would enable the public especially those in rural areas to afford home Internet connections,” he said.
In acknowledging the social impact of the Telcos on the people, he cited some of their programmes such as Telekom Malaysia’s ‘Sekolah Angkat Programme’ and the Community Broadband Centre (CBC) in Pakan set up by MCMC and Telcos under the Universal Service Provision fund.
“Efforts such as these should be increased. Therefore I strongly urge Telcos to be active in carrying out their corporate social responsibilities,” he said.