In a report I filed last week, the government is said to be still mulling over which operators should receive the spectrum to operate Long Term Evolution (LTE) commercial networks in Malaysia.
This is not the first time I've written about such developments but it certainly is the latest information we journalists have received on record, that the government feels there is no rush to dish out the licenses since the technology is deemed to be still nascent.
In reply to questions as to why the government had taken such a long time to decide on spectrum assignments, Joseph Salang Gandum, deputy minister of the Information, Culture and Communications, said his ministry merely decides on broad guidelines on such matters, and that the actual evaluation as to who gets the LTE spectrum falls under the purview of the regulator, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).
Another journalist pressed further on this matter and asked: "Doesn't the MCMC, which is under the purview of the ministry, get reports on the progress of the spectrum assignment?" The deputy minister had no answer to that query, only alluding to the fact that that question must be put to the MCMC directly. Unfortunately, there weren't any MCMC officials at the press conference to field the questions.
I find it strange that the second man in command of the ministry isn't abreast with what's going on in an agency his ministry is supposed to oversee. Perhaps it can be argued that he wasn't briefed on the matter. But then again, this too is strange, since during his speech earlier at the event in question, he alluded to LTE as a future technology that Malaysia at some point will embrace.
Politicians, while not technocrats who can be argued to be more in-the-know, still ought to have a better grasp as to what is really going on, especially one that is in charge of a national commodity such as spectrum. It's simply not acceptable and patently ironic that such questions cannot be answered squarely, especially when the event he is officiating is about that very same theme.
Now coming back to the question at hand: what's holding back MCMC's decision?
Make no mistake about it, I've argued in this blog before against service providers rushing headlong into building LTE networks in Malaysia, noting that not only do service providers in this country still have a lot do with their current spectrum resources but also with the quality of service--everything from customer service to billing discrepancies to poor coverage--before trying to push the limits of higher speeds and selling more bandwidth.
Such warnings have also be validated by industry watchers.
However, while I still stand by that, the fact is that the government, through MCMC, did earlier call for detailed business plans (DBP) to be submitted by nine service providers, detailing how they planned to build a business case for LTE should they be successful in obtaining the spectrum.
Given the fact that the MCMC did indeed ask for DBPs, when will they eventually reveal to the industry and the public its decision?
Industry sources I spoke with said the MCMC was still tweaking the requirements and had in April/May asked service providers to re-submit their plans to include other details that weren't called for earlier.
Is this going to be the order of the day going forward? Is the MCMC going to continue delaying its decision? And for how long?
One source I spoke with, who was familiar with the matter, could only say that MCMC was still busy evaluating things over, and that an announcement will be made "in due course".
While it's the absolute prerogative of the MCMC to release its findings and decisions as and when it deems ready to do so, I do believe what the industry is asking for, that is, a timetable and a semblance of certainty as to when this entire assignment process will see the light of day--to enable them to plan for the future--isn't at all unreasonable.
MCMC should comply with the industry's reasonable request as this not only goes to show that it is an agency that is on top of managing precious commodities like spectrum, but is willing to work with the industry for the betterment of Malaysia.