(Picture for representational purposes only). The BookXcess bookstore provides a space for reading and internet access at the Tamarind Square, Cyberjaya, Selangor.PIX: AFIQ RAZALI / MalaysiaGazette /10 NOVEMBER 2018.
The following article is submitted to the editorial of MalaysiaGazette by reader, Amira Suriati, an aspiring digital nomad.

The unfolding of the covid19 pandemic has unleashed another wave of impact that we can never imagine. I think there has been enough discussion of its impact on our lives, economy, etc. But for me, I found a silver lining in the fiasco. Confident that I have garnered enough skills to work in the digital world, I mustered my courage to make the plunge to convert my side hustle to a full-time gig. Now that everyone has started normalizing Zoom and Google meetings, everything seemed plausible. I had all plans laid down upon me; I was determined be a digital nomad. I mean, I had always planned to be one, but it was supposed to take place in Bali. However, the more I think about it, my beloved hometown Kuala Nerang, located 30 minutes away from Kedah’s capital, Alor Star was not a bad idea too.

Not at all.

The plan was all rainbows and butterflies until I figured out that Veveonah was not the only one who needed to climb trees for connection. All the plans related to working remotely in Kuala Nerang had crashed even before my dream could even take off… I mean, how was I going to work when I was still relying on “EDGE” connection. Some of the service providers cannot even give me a single bar. This was 2020, the year that we’re supposed to have “flying cars” and the deployment of 5G was on its way.

I ran my research with the hopes to find at least a reliable network from one of our local telcos. It was frustrating to learn that the strongest connection I got was 3G. 3G was launched in Malaysia in 2003. Close to 20 years ago. Where are those Ku Bersamamu, the pledge to create a Wilayah and Fibre Nation for us?

I had no choice but to abort my plan to start the company in my hometown. A plan that could benefit more youth in the small town. What is knowledge transfer when I could barely open a file on my Google drive?

Since telcos were given the right to develop their facilities from 2G up until 4G technology, the connection only benefitted those who live in the main areas and city centres. I was lucky that I had the opportunity to outgrow the small town, learned about the world, and gained the knowledge from Silicon Valley during my University years (in a very well connected Klang Valley). Imagine the 90% of my childhood friends (and my family members) who were stuck in the land far away from the technologies resulting from the greed of overzealous telcos.

And that is not the only sad tale…

When most of the kids had to move their classrooms from physical to digital, the kids in the kampung not only need to share their gadgets with their siblings, but some also had to resort to traveling to pick up the physical homework from the post guards on the daily basis. A friend, who was a teacher in Grik, Perak had asked my help with crowdsourcing funds to buy gadgets for her form 5 students. She lamented about having to pick one service provider because quote-unquote – “Itu saja line yang available. Itu pun 3G”. The lack of telco service outside of our city centres is glaring.

Income is not the only disparity we have. Internet connection is indeed a luxury. And it is contributed by the money-making mindset (capitalistic mindset?) from these telcos who felt that the rakyat who live at the Jalan “tiada nama” somewhere in Kedah or Perak, didn’t deserve a fair connection like the ones in Jalan Telawi, Bangsar.

It is time to make 5G an accessible utility.

The issue of connectivity is not exclusive to my hometown. There’s nothing that I could wish for except for making a 5G connection an accessible utility for all. Trust me, JENDELA is a great plan but what is a plan without a proper execution? It is timely for us to have a 5G deployment plan that puts the rakyat’s interest first over certain companies’ profit. The only way forward for fast and reliable connectivity is for us to allow the Government to take over the development of 5G via SPV like Digital Nasional Berhad.

If we want to have the argument about monopoly and cost efficiency, we should have debated it with these telcos who can barely get 4G Towers in so many other places across the country. And trust me, the cost offered by each telco hasn’t been any cheaper since 3G in 2003 or 4G in 2013.

If it’s not because of their selfishness, we could bridge the gap between Silicon Valley in the US and Lembah Kinta in Perak. If not for this, who knows?  We probably could have our first digital unicorn by now.