I refer to FMT report on “Let telcos launch own 5G networks, govt told” dated 23 April 2023. I was astounded to have read such a brazen article from clearly not a neutral party in this ongoing yet obviousdebate – should Malaysia allow another 5G provider to not make it a monopoly?
Anybody familiar to this debate nor anyone within the local telco industry realizes that the 5G Single Wholesale Network (SWN) anything but a monopoly. Unlike any other monopolies, Digital Nasional Berhad(DNB)’s role in the national 5G roll-out was the equivalent of a highway operator, whose main task is to prepare equitable, efficient, and well-maintained lanesfor all MNOs to participate in the 5G journey. This win-win solution isn’t socialism either for those who are quick to judge; the SWN model was unanimously praised by United Nations and industry observers from France as a unique solution to our 3G and 4G spectrum auction debacle, which has prolonged and beleaguered Malaysian users for more than a decade.
Now this is where the story gets interesting. AnnuarMusa had spearheaded an important agenda during his stint as Communications Minister – which he claimed as his legacy in taking the nation’s internet connectivity to a higher level. He launched Jendela (National Digital Network) – an ambitious, national connectivitymasterplan designed to solve our woes when it comes to internet connection. The plan aspired to improve nationwide coverage and quality of telco services. In theory, the plan was all nice and dandy – with clear targets and a dedicated team to programme manage the whole implementation across 14 states in Malaysia. The reason Annuar Musa, our last functioning Communications Minister had to embark on Jendelawas because he himself hails from Ketereh, a rural town in the outskirts of Kelantan. Annuar was never satisfiedwith the internet connectivity in his hometown, moreover in other localities in rural Malaysia. In short Jendela had to be executed, consuming more of our taxpayer monies to fill the gaps left by telcos who were given decades to provide quality and equitable service to Malaysian under the good banner of anti-monopoly and competition – the same slogan touted by those opposing DNB’s 5G approach.
Regardless of the development, in June 2020 18-year old Vevenoah Mosibin, an undergraduate student from UMS had to climb trees in her hometown in Pitas, Sabah for better connection just to undergo her online exams. Another aspiring young Malaysian in the backwater of Sarawak had to operate his gadget out of a car boot so that he can secure connection to attend his online class. The entire time, not even a single telcocame out claiming responsibility – leaving the deputy minister in charge to take the brunt. The irresponsible act by telcos went on – even regulator MCMC was dragged to the whole shenanigans and found themselves in a media scuffle with the poor girl – a student who just wanted access to internet connection. Despite all the attention, the telcos with all the 3G and 4G ‘allocation’ couldn’t serve her basic needs for connectivity. And what’s worse is this is happening in our country, and the users are our own rakyat. Telcosreluctance to invest in required infrastructure to serve the underserved communities in Malaysia in light of reduced profits are a bad excuse to cover up greedy and profit hungry bottomlines. The audacity for these telcos to even claim a second bite at the 5G pie.
Despite all that, Gobind, Saifuddin, Zafrul, including the previous Communications Minister came together, stood valiantly against telco lobbyists and have succeeded in winning the 5G roll-out via DNB for the rakyat – at least for now. In spite of efforts from Fahmi Fadzil to starve off debate by declaring no lobbying through media is permissible and recently sounded out that any 5G business must go through DNB, the telcos are now back at it again; this time through GSMA, an industry trade body which has originally backed DNB’s SWN model, only to make a U-turn halfway through the implementation by saying that Putrajaya needs to adopt a flexible policy to foster adoption and innovation. What would an Australian, who has never lived a day in Malaysia and endured the poor internet quality that we have today has to say on the wants and needs of the rakyat?
Some call this move political. I call it what it is – unchecked greed.
The Coverage Malaysia