Me and Ray made our way to Sabah to meet the girl who went viral on the internet for staying in a tree to take online exam. We were curious as to how exactly Veveonah Mosibin’s situation was, including how bad the connection is in Kampung Sapatalang, how she managed to upload full videos on YouTube, and if she really did need to stay up the tree for 24 hours just to get good mobile connection.
Who is Veveonah Mosibin?
Veveonah Mosibin is an 18 year old Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) student from Kampung Sapatalang, Pitas, Sabah. She’s currently taking the foundation course in Science, and she also has a knack for shooting and editing videos on her YouTube channel.
After posting content of her building things like water wells and huts, her video about staying up in a tree for 24 hours to help get better mobile connection to take her exams went viral. The video (which currently has over 710K views) also had several people pointing out how her experience highlighted the disparity in internet access in the country.
Because of her video, Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah clarified issues at a press conference surrounding internet connectivity for students. He mentions that the telcos are working hard through MCMC (Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission) to ensure there is connectivity, and to improve connectivity.
When I asked Veveonah how she got into YouTube, she said that the idea just popped out after watching videos by Primitive Technology, Mr Beast and Pewdiepie. She also acknowledges how her life changed after her viral video.
“There are two types of changes. I can bring change to not only for my family, but for my village—there are a lot of positive things that came after I went viral. But when I want to go visit my tree to get internet, and I tell my mom I want to go alone—“Cannot” she said… she needs to be my bodyguard,” she said, laughing.
Mobile connection in Kampung Sapatalang
Her village is one of the many rural areas in Malaysia with little to no internet coverage. When we travelled the 3-4 hours from Kota Kinabalu to Kampung Sapatalang, Pitas, we noticed that the further we travelled, the mobile data on our phones went down from 4G to EDGE.
Veveonah mentions that the internet coverage is “very bad” and “slow”, which is why she thought of fixing her situation by climbing up a high area to get better connection for her exams—as schools had been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The higher the ground is, the better we connect,” she said, “Luckily, my theory is right.”
We tested the connection when we hiked up on the hill where the famous tree was (you can watch my struggle trying to climb it in the video above), and it indeed had a better connection compared to when we were at the bottom of the hill. Although, the connection was still weak—as my own phone only showed 2 to 3 bars of connection.
Still, Veveonah used the area to her advantage. She learnt to edit videos on her own through InShot (Android, iOS), and she shoots only using her mobile phone (An Oppo A5 2020, Telco: Celcom). It takes her about a couple hours to edit her videos, and uses a lot of battery power.
“For uploading the video, if it is an 11 minute video it takes an hour to upload on YouTube,” she said.
As for how she charges her phone and power bank, since her current living situation doesn’t include having electricity, she says that there are a lot of people around nearby with electricity who can help charge them for her family. She also tells us she gets her phone charged once a day.
Has her viral video resulted to a change in her village’s connection capabilities?
“Of course I’m happy,” she said after we asked her how she felt giving her village more attention in Malaysia, “Not just for me, but for everyone in the village including the young ones.”
It’s not just attention she’s getting from netizens, the media, and the government. Her story even resulted to corporations like TM upgrading the Pusat Internet Kampung Pinggan-Pinggan at Pitas Sabah with 300Mbps fibre optic connectivity.
Veveonah stated that because she’s getting more attention and help from outside her village, villagers will get the opportunity to be more open to outside world developments. “I know how it felt when I didn’t know anything about the outside world. With the internet, younger kids will get with the times and not be left out,” said Veveonah.
While connectivity is available across Malaysia, there is still a vast difference between urban areas and rural areas when it comes to connectivity. According to Opensignal, users in the most densely populated districts could connect to 4G networks 83.7% of the time, while users in the most sparsely populated districts spent just 44% of their time on 4G networks—a difference of almost 40 percentage points.
However, in 2019, the government and the MCMC has allocated RM21.6 billion to implement a national connectivity plan for equal access to the internet. Their Universal Service Provision (USP) plan has called for operators to ensure that mobile coverage is available in areas where there is a population density of at least 80 people per square KM. But what about villages that have less than that amount of people? Is Veveonah’s village included in the plan?
The truth about the village’s connection plan
The RM21.6 billion connectivity fund was for the National Fiberisation and Connectivity Plan (NFCP)—which is meant to bridge the digital divide between the rural and urban areas in the country. The five-year project aims to spend half of the budget (about RM11 billion) for the USP fund. The other half is for commercial funds.
The first phase of the plan has been approved earlier this year, aimed at bringing up the speed of connections at more acceptable levels. Their target is to bring the average broadband speed to 30Mbps by deploying better 3G or 4G towers nearby.
For Veveonah’s village specifically, it is already one of the areas approved for the NFCP project. Sabah, in fact, has the most distributions of sites compared to other states. For Pitas, the project has been listed under NFCP 1, and is expect to be completed in Q2 2021.
Installation towers will be handled by Edotco and U Mobile, and it would take about 1 year to be completed. So the plan to get better connection wasn’t resulted by Veveonah’s viral video—it was planned all along… but she would still need to wait a little while longer.
However, that doesn’t mean that her viral efforts were moot. Her content sparked conversations and awareness about the lack of connectivity in rural areas. Teens like Rose in Sarawak also posted similar content regarding the lack of connection in her own area.
So, how did we travel during the pandemic?
It is still risky to fly during this time, even if the restrictions did loosen. However, we managed to travel locally, as long as we followed the rules during travel given by AirAsia. Here are the things you need to remember the next time you fly out!
- Download the AirAsia app (iOS, Android)
- Once you’ve booked your flight, you can check-in 14 days before departure on the app by typing in your booking information
- Pack enough face masks and hand sanitiser in your carry on. Trust me—it’s really handy to do so
- Arrive at the airport at least 3 hours before departure, and wear your mask at all times throughout your journey
- Use your AirAsia app on your phone to check-in through the AirAsia contactless kiosk. Just scan your barcode at the kiosk’s scanner and it’ll print out your ticket and your luggage tag
- Use the self baggage drop to skip the long lines
- Observe social distancing at all times
- Temperature check before boarding
- Boarding will also be staggered according to the zones, so check what zone you are in by looking at your ticket
- Place your carry-on under the seat in front of you
- Queuing up for the lavatory is not allowed
- Onboard meals will be distributed by cabin crew with masks, gloves and goggles on
- Staggered disembarkation
- After landing we needed to fill in a health declaration form, so remember to bring a pen!
- Wait to be interviewed by health authorities as they ask about why you’ve chosen to travel to Sabah
- Expect about a 1 and half hour delay, from landing to stepping out of the airport because of the health check, immigration and baggage claim
We also needed to be as careful with our Airbnb stay as we did with our flight to Kota Kinabalu. Airbnb only lets people do self check-ins to limit human contact. Detailed instructions are also emailed to us before our journey so we can get a better understanding of what to do without a host to greet us.
Thank you to AirAsia and Airbnb for helping us get to Sabah!