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M'sia's rural areas lagging behind with broadband

Malaysia says it is on track with plans to connect half its households with broadband services by year-end, but citizens in far-flung states still feel left out when it comes to Internet infrastructure and service.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

The Malaysia government is following up on its promise to connect half of the country's households with Internet broadband connection by end-2010. However, citizens in states far from the administrative capital feel that the government focus is more on the urban areas.

According to a Bernama report, the Malaysian government is on track with its target to reach a "="" class="c-regularLink" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">50 percent broadband penetration in households by 2010. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission noted in a press release that as of July 21, 2010, the country has reached a broadband penetration rate of 38.4 percent.

One of the government's efforts in providing Internet access is the five-year Community Broadband Centre (CBC) project. Here, centers with broadband-connected computers have been set up on 37 sites in the plantation settlements of Peninsula Malaysia and rural areas of Sabah and Sarawak in East Malaysia.

The government has also distributed netbooks to lower-income households, along with lower-cost broadband packages, to encourage broadband access.

Despite these initiatives, some citizens in the outlying states feel the government could do more for areas far from the capital. In an instant message interview that ZDNet Asia had with a Kota Kinabalu resident, the Sabah-raised resident said that compared with Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur, her home town was often left out of Internet infrastructure building exercises. "[Take] wireless broadband service. There are only a few areas providing this service in Kota Kinabalu," said Chok Pei San.

The business support executive, who is now working in KL, also pointed out that she is using Maxis' fixed-line broadband, while in Sabah, her home subscribes to Streamyx broadband provided by TM, a Telekom Malaysia subsidiary. She finds her Internet connection in KL better than the one at home and "more stable...maybe because fewer people [are] using the service [in the area]".

According to Maxis' Web site, its fixed-line broadband is currently "confined to selected residential areas" and East Malaysia is not included in its list.

Telekom Malaysia's roll-out of its high-speed broadband (HSBB) service is also limited to urban areas of Kuala Lumpur during its launch.

Connecting the country with a high-speed Internet connection is at the top of many Asia-Pacific governments' agenda. Singapore targets to wire the city-state with broadband speeds of over 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) by 2012, while Australia announced its eight-year National Broadband Network (NBN) project in 2009.

Enter satellite broadband
According to ZDNet Asia's sister site ZDNet Australia, Australia's NBN Co is also looking at satellite broadband to connect its rural areas.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Patompob Suwansiri, vice president of Thailand-based satellite broadband provider Thaicom, noted that satellite broadband is most favorable in large countries where there is a lack of good terrestrial infrastructure.

According to Suwansiri, apart from nationwide coverage, satellite broadband has the advantage of being distance independent, quick to install, and reliable as it is not susceptible to natural disasters.

With satellite TV penetration at 49 percent in Malaysia according to Malaysia-based satellite TV provider Astro, ZDNet Asia asked Suwansiri if it was possible to use a satellite TV set-top box to receive Internet connection from satellites.

Unfortunately, he replied in the negative. "The satellite TV set-top box and the broadband satellite modem are not the same technology," he explained.

In a previous report, Malaysia's broadband access was found to be the most expensive among Asia-Pacific countries.

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