Azzman said that the introduction of the time-based telephone billing system for Internet users has been identified as the cause of decline of the growth of Internet users in Malaysia.
In April last year, before the introduction of the time-based telephone billing system, MIMOS was forecasting that Malaysia would have 150,000 Internet subscribers by the end of the year and that this figure would reach 500,000 Internet subscribers by the end of this year.
However, the exponential 23 per cent growth of Internet subscribers per month plummeted sharply to 10 per cent, despite the appointment of TMNet as the second Internet Service Provider, following the introduction of the time-based telephone billing system.
As a result, there has a great shortfall from the MIMOS forecast in April 1996 that Internet subscribers would reach 150,000 at the end of 1996 and 500,000 by the end of 1997 - as the total number of Internet subscribers by the end of the first half of 1997 is even lower than that originally forecast for the end of last year.
At present, there are only 120,000 Internet subscribers - with 70,000 subscribers registered with Jaring and 50,000 with TMNet.
The high-powered National Information Technology Council, which is chaired by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, should regard this drastic shortfall in the national Internet take-up rate as a great setback in the promotion of Information Technology among the people and devise a strategy to counter this trend.
This strategy should constitute at least two elements:
A major nation-wide campaign to popularise IT awareness, literacy and fluency among Malaysians is urgently needed if Malaysians are to fully benefit from the quantum leap into the digital era.
This nation-wide campaign should not only ensure that every student who leaves school by the year 2,000 is computer-literate, but also popularise IT awareness, literacy and fluency among adult Malaysians, particularly among those above 35 years who - like their counterparts in other countries - have a fear of computers.
The nation-wide campaign for adult Malaysians should be two-pronged: one, to remove the fear of computers from the adult Malaysians and to persuade them to acquire basic computer-literacy. Secondly, for those who are unable to acquire basic computer skills, to make them fully aware of the critical importance of Information Technology for the nation and the new generation of Malaysians so that they could give full support to provide all available facilities and opportunities for the new generation to acquire IT literacy, competence and even mastery.
The campaign to increase the national Internet take-up rate as well as to popularise national IT awareness, literacy and competence should be one which involves all sectors of society.
In response to my query in Parliament in March, the government had earlier said that it was planning a massive nation-wide campaign in May this year to raise the national Internet uptake rate, but this campaign has not materialised.
There should be a greater sense of urgency that such a national campaign should be launched off without any more delay, if Malaysia is not to lose precious time to prepare Malaysians for the Information Age.