Yesterday, Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak said that the complaints of slow Internet speeds in Malaysia are because the people cannot afford higher speed Internet. His statement seems to imply that the people are not willing to pay for better broadband. Tiger thinks we shouldn’t have to.
Salleh was reportedly refuting a post by DAP’s Lim Kit Siang that he remains unconcerned about Malaysia’s poor Internet speeds, which are slower than other Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and Singapore.
According to Malaysiakini.com, in a blog post last night, Salleh also said that 71% of Malaysian Internet users preferred the slower Streamyx broadband packages that offered speeds of between 384 kilobit per second (Kbps) to 1 megabit per second (Mbps). According to him, this was their preference over much higher speeds – albeit – more expensive packages offered by the Internet service providers (ISPs).
Well done, Minister, well done. In one blog post, you have not only managed to insult the people’s economic status, you’ve also managed to insult their intelligence.
For one, you’ve insinuated that our lower broadband speeds, compared to neighbouring Singapore, for instance, is because we don’t want to pay more for higher broadband. While that may be true, there’s one important truth you are not conveniently pointing out: the lack of affordable high-speed broadband packages made available to consumers.
While mobile broadband has grown in popularity among Malaysians, it is still pricey and not as cost-effective as having a fixed, unlimited broadband package at home. For those who can afford it, sure, they can pay through their noses to have a 500 Mbps fibre broadband connection at home. And that is if they really need it.
But even for those paying for a basic 5 Mbps fibre broadband UniFi package, they have to dish out about RM158 a month. Bear in mind that UniFi is owned by Telekom Malaysia Bhd (TM), a government-linked corporation and listed entity.
A 1 Mbps Streamyx package by TM costs RM116.60 a month and really, that is expensive when you compare to a SingTel (backed by the Singapore government) customer paying S$50 (RM156) for a 1 gigabit per second fibre broadband connection. So effectively, Malaysians are paying more for far slower speeds. The question is, why do we have to?
The reason we are is that there are protectionist policies in place shielding companies like TM from real competition, policies that continue to allow it to dominate the marketplace.
The opposite is true for Singapore, which has at least six broadband players offering retail broadband services to consumers. With countries like Singapore, economies of scale from the competition has allowed broadband prices to decrease over time, making it affordable to the average Singaporean household.
Yes Tiger is aware that Singapore’s broadband infrastructure set-up is different from Malaysia’s and that is part of the problem: most of the infrastructure is owned by no other than TM. TM is hardly to blame of course, it is after all, a money-making entity. The fault lies with the authorities, for allowing a monopoly to continue year after year, thus causing broadband prices to remain high.
“We want to ensure that by 2020, at least 95% of Malaysians will have access to the Internet. And we also want to ensure that at least 50% of the urban areas and 20% of the rural areas have broadband speeds of up to 100 Mbps,” Salleh also said in his blog post.
Really, now? How do you plan to achieve that, dear minister, when you say over 70% of people clearly are unable to afford more than a 1 Mbps package a month? It is not enough that 95% of Malaysians have access to the Internet, that is truly a laughable goal when Singapore is bent on giving all its citizens access to broadband.
So why can’t we demand the same of ourselves as a nation? Why are we always reaching for the low-hanging fruit and aiming for developed nation status at the same time? At current broadband prices, there’s no way the minister is going to achieve his broadband penetration goal of 100 Mbps for 50% of urban areas and 20% of rural areas.
It’s time the minister and regulator aim higher, that is, to make sure that 95% of all Malaysians have access to affordable broadband by 2020. Any goal lesser than that is a gross disservice to Malaysians.