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Does Malaysia need cheaper broadband, or a change in mindset?

BERNAMA reports that the Government is looking into the possibility of reducing broadband access fee nationwide to ensure that the people, especially those in the rural areas, can afford to use broadband.

Speaking at the sixth Ministerial Forum on Information, Communication and Technology, our minister of Information, Communication and Culture Minister, Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim said Internet services in Malaysia can be cheaper. Rais compared local brodband prices with Singapore where broadband providers there can offer 2Mbps line for the equivalent of RM20. Here, the same speed is offers at a hefty RM130 – RM199. Rais said that local operators should look at how other countries within the region, like Korea, Taiwan, China, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand set broadband prices.

With all due respect to the minister, we don’t think broadband prices are hampering progress of broadband subscription instead it is a matter of priorities. For the majority, broadband can be free in Malaysia for all they care but the reality is they will never use it.

Look at the numbers, according to the stats from MCMC and the latest quarterly report from Astro, there are more Astro subscribers than fixed broadband subscribers in the country. If you compare the number of mobile broadband subscribers, the numbers are even more alarming. Barely 1 million Malaysians subsscribe to mobile broadband compared to close to 3 million Astro subscribers.

Compare that to mobile phones. With a population of just over 28 million people, we have over 30 milion mobile phone subscribers in the country equating to a mobile phone penetration rate of over 100%. That means some of us have more than one handphone.

Clearly, affordability is not an issue here, many Malaysians in rural area can very well afford to pay-tv service. And the many SMS reality shows running on pay-tv and terestial channels tell you that these people have enough disposable income to spend big money on sending hundreds of SMS a month to vote for their favourite reality stars.

So what does this tell us? The reality of the matter is that we Malaysians can very well afford broadband. In fact today, broadband in Malaysia is as cheap as it gets. In terms of price, options and value, we’ve never had it so good (of course, performance and reliability is a whole different mater altogether).

But the sad thing is most of us don’t find that there is a need to subscribe to a broadband service. There’s no need to have a computer and Internet at home, many are very happy with just the idiot box in the living room.

At the end of the day, cheap Internet is good but price is no longer an issue for most Malaysians. Rather the issue is a matter of priorities. What is important to us? Many just simply don’t see the need to go online. The challenge is to create the need for Malaysians to go online by creating relevant content and service for Malayisans not making going online cheaper.

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