‘Enough is enough!’ Sarawak, introduces slew of Digital Economy initiatives

  • State wants to control its own digital destiny, launches own communications, digital agencies
  • Promises to connect entire state with fibre connectivity, will invest US$200 mil to kickstart

‘Enough is enough!’ Sarawak, introduces slew of Digital Economy initiatives

 

EXPRESSING the deep frustration among Sarawakians on the poor state of digital infrastructure in Malaysia’s largest state by land mass, Sarawak Chief Minister, Amar Abang Johari Openg, in his opening address at the largest digital economy conference organized in the state, said, “Enough is enough”. He wondered aloud if the state government should launch its own version of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) or Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC).

Speaking to a full house of 1,300 attendees, many of them from government, one could be forgiven for thinking that Amar Abang was pandering to the audience.

Yet, 24-hours later he followed it up with a slew of announcements in his conference closing remarks that sent a loud message to one and all. Sarawak was serious about grabbing a stake for itself in the digital economy, and it would depend mostly on its own resources and initiatives to build its digital future as it did not want to be held back. And, as Amar reiterated, “We have the political will.”

Add personal interest as well because Amar surprised everyone with his near constant presence at the conference, a fact that a number of speakers highlighted as significant marker of leadership commitment.

That commitment and leadership drive was further demonstrated with the announcement that the state will form its own Sarawak Multimedia Authority to regulate ICT infrastructure and digital technology utilization. Amar also announced that Sarawak will form the Sarawak Digital Economy Corporation to coordinate all Digital Economy initiatives, ranging from infrastructure, e-government, talent development, e-commerce and cyber security.

Emphasising the importance of speed, which Amar believes to be a key part of the enablers for the digital economy, the state will be investing US$225 million (RM1 billion) on its own towards improving the state’s connectivity infrastructure. It is asking the Federal Government to match its commitment with RM1 billion from the MCMC, specifically through the Universal Service Provision (USP).  

“We can’t aspire to be in the digital economy if we are suffering from constant buffering. Our speeds have to match those of the leading countries like South Korea.” To achieve this he is looking at a fiber backbone running throughout the state connecting in the north to a submarine landing point in Brunei while to the south, Indonesia was an option.

Strengthening wireless access is another pressure point Amar hope to alleviate. With the state having 1,200 towers, Amar wants to increase this four fold, targeting to add another 5,000 towers throughout the state but without specifying a deadline.

The infrastructure costs will be large and there are questions about how the state will come up with the funds. The answer could lie in the formation of the Development Bank of Sarawak, thanks to support from the federal government and the central bank, Bank Negara Malaysia, and whose main mandate, according to Amar, will be to provide funding for projects geared to propel Sarawak as a Digital Economy. As of press time, no further details have emerged of this major development.

Meanwhile, various other initiatives were announced such as a Digital Village to encourage SMEs and youth to innovate and be digital ready, push for e-learning, promote the state as a data centre hub with a focus on biodiversity.

The various initiatives may seem a lot for a state with a small population of 2.8 million but Amar reassures, “As your chief minister, I will make sure all these are done.”

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