Information Minister, Datuk Mohamed Rahmat announced yesterday that the IT awareness campaign to be launched by the Prime Minister is to educate the people on Information Technology, with Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad going on television and radio’s prime time to talk to the people on what IT was all about and how they could contribute towards making it a success for the country.
Mohamed added that even the print media would be directed to focus on IT events and topics while the business sector would have to gear towards IT-orientated investments.
Something is very wrong with the information infrastructure in the country when the Prime Minister has to be enlisted not only to be the premier salesman overseas for the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), but also to educate Malaysians on IT.
Are there no other national leaders who could perform this task and can the Prime Minister find the time to lead a sustained campaign to educate Malaysians about IT? Shouldn’t this function fall primary on the shoulders of the Information Minister - and if not, why not?
What is of great concern about the IT awareness campaign announced by the Information Minister is that it is only concerned with raising IT awareness, while it has neglected the even more important areas of promoting IT literacy and fluency among Malaysians.
With the major commitments which the country has made to promote the Multi-media Super Corridor as the instrument to enable Malaysia to leapfrog into the digital era, Malaysia should have passed the "talking" stage and should be in the "doing" stage, popularising not only IT awareness, but also IT literacy and fluency among all sections of the Malaysian society.
What is also disconcerting about the IT awarenss campaign to be launched at the end of the month is the lack of public involvement at all levels of society.
For the past two years, both inside and outside Parliament, I had been calling on the government to launch a national "IT For All" campaign to popularise IT-literacy, accompanied by a "One Family, One Computer" programme to ensure that every Malaysian household can be confident in using the latest technology to develop their potential and enhance their lives and that all our businesses - large or small - would be in a position to seize the opportunites offered by the latest technology and make it work for them.
I had also proposed that national, state, district and local "IT For All" committees should be set up with round-the-year programmes to popularise both IT awareness and use among Malaysians.
An important objective of such an "IT For All" campaign should be to raise the Internet take-up rate of Malaysians, so that Malaysia could be one of the top nations in the world in terms of per capita connection to the Internet.
The urgency of raising the Internet take-up rate among Malaysians becomes even more evident when in the United States, which already dominates in having about two-thirds of the world’s internet users, had been actively launching a public education campaign involving the US Government to urge Americans to "Get Connected to the Information Age"!
For Malaysia, there is another important reason for such an national "IT For All" campaign to popularise IT awareness, literacy and fluency among Malaysians - i.e. the sharp fall in the number of new Internet subscribers since the middle of last year.
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 five 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.
It is hoped that in launching the IT awareness campaign, the Prime Minister would also give the good news of the immediate abolition of the time-based telephone billing for Internet users in order to make up for the great shortfall in the increase of new Internet take-up rate in the country.
Telekoms had repeatedly opposed the abolition of the time-based telephone billing system for Internet users and the restoration of the previous flat-rate charge system, claiming that the charges for Internet access in Malaysia is the cheapest in the region.
However, Telekoms claim that the costs of internet access in Malaysia is the cheapest in the region is not borne out by the data in an article on "Asia’s INFO TECH EXPLOSION" in the August 18 issue of FORTUNE, which gave the following comparative Internet Access Costs for Asian countries and the United States:
Hong Kong $16-$26
United States $15-$23
The Cabinet should give urgent consideration to ensure that internet access costs in Malaysia are reduced so that Malaysia can have a higher Internet take-up rate among Malaysians and that we do not trail too far behind the more advanced IT nations, whether in the world or in the Asian region.
In this connection, the following Fortune’s data on "registered internet users per 100,000 population" should give a clear indication of the large gap Malaysia must catch up with the more advanced IT nations:
Hong Kong 2,725
United States 5,370
The national IT campaign to be launched by the Prime Minister at the end of the month should incorporate targets, both short-term and medium-term, of the Internet take-up rate, whether in terms of the number of registered Internet users or the ratio of internet users per 100,000 population, Malaysia wants to achieve on a year-to-year basis until 2,005.