On the contrary, the country has allowed the Internet uptake rate to fall and slacken from an exponential 23 per cent growth of Internet subscribers per month to only five per cent per month in the past 12 months, despite the appointment of TMNet as the second Internet Service Provider.
As a result, the MIMOS forecast in April 1996 that Malaysia would have 150,000 Internet subscribers by the end of 1996 and that this figure would reach 500,000 Internet subscribers by the end of 1997 had proved to be wide off-the-mark, with the present Internet subscribers only reaching the 120,000 mark.
The question is how the nation could allow the Internet uptake rate to fall so drastically when the country is trying to leapfrog into the digital era, which would also require the people making a quantum leap in their ability to access, adopt and absorb information and information technology rather than undergoing a quantum fall-back!
I call on MIMOS and Telekom Malaysia to co-operate in a national strategy to effect a quantum leap in the ability of Malaysians to access, adopt and absorb information and information technology which is the precondition for the success of the Multimedia Super Corridor - and both should regard this as their prime national service to transform Malaysia into an Information Society.
It is clear that the primary reason for the great decline in the Internet take-up rate of Malaysians is the result of the introduction of the time-based telephone billing system last June, and the solution lies in the immediate abolition of the time-based telephone billing for Internet users and the restoration of a flat-rate charge system.
In the Star today, MIMOS Bhd Vice President, Dr. Mohamed Awang Lah disclosed that Mimos Bhd is paying Telekom Malaysia Bhd. millions of ringgit as contribution towards infrastructure costs to provide Internet services. However, Telekom continues to charge Internet users on a time-call basis, which means it is making money from both sides by providing just one service.
I fully agree with Dr. Mohamed that as internet users are already paying for the cost to get connected to Internet Service Providers (ISPs), they should not be burdened by the additional telecommunications tariffs.
Recently, the 1997 Information Imperative Index (III) which ranks 55 industrial and emerging economies on the basis of their ability to access, absorb and effectively utilise information was released.
First presented last year, the Index is prepared annually by International Data Corporation (IDC) and the World Times Global Research, using 20 variables from three critical infrastructures to measure the ability of individuals in the 55 countries to access, adopt and absorb information and information technology.
Some of the 20 factors comprising the Information Imperative Index are:
Social - for example, school enrolment, press freedom and civil liberties.
Information - for example, telephone lines/household, telephone faults/line and cellular phones per capital
Computer - for example, PCs installed per capita, percentage of networked PCs, software/hardware spending, and Internet hosts per capita.
The Index findings distribute nations into four groups to categorise their pace towards achieving an information-technology oriented society.
Malaysia was ranked No. 37 out of 55 countries in the 1996 Information Imperative Index, topping the fourth grouping defined as "countries wandering toward the (information) revolution without any great haste, deterred to differing degrees by infrastructure costs, limited consumer demand and cultural fears".
As forecast by International Data Corporation and World Times last year, Malaysia has been upgraded from the fourth grouping of "Strollers" to the third grouping of "Striders", defined as "countries progressing in a steady, if sometimes leisurely way, towards an information society, toying with new technologies while relying on many older ones".
Under normal circumstances, Malaysia should have reason to feel proud that in the 1997 Information Imperative Index (III), the nation has improved by two national rankings, i.e. placed in the 35th placing as compared to 37th last year, as well as getting into a higher grouping.
Furthermore, Malaysia was also ranked as one of the five countries which had made the biggest percentage change in cumulative scores since the 1996 index, coming second after Japan. In the 1996 Index, Malaysia had a relatively low score of 960, as compared to the top score of 5,107 for the United States. In the 1997 Index, Malaysia’s score improved by 17.6% to reach 1,060.
However, as Malaysia’s IT ambition is to be one of the international IT hubs in the digital era, we cannot be satisfied with normal incremental improvements, however impressive they may be, but should aim for phenomenal quantum leaps in improvements.
This means that we should aim to get into the top 20 leading IT nations in the world. The first top grouping of the Index, called "Skaters" and defined as "countries fully in tune with the fast pace and complicated procedures of the information age, reflecting an established infrastructure and computer literate population", has only two nations, firstly the United States with an overall score of 4,987 and secondly, Finland with an overall score of 3,591.
Malaysia should aim to leapfrog and catapult into the second grouping of the Index, called "Sprinters" and defined as "nations moving purposefully along the information pathways, their citizens absorbing new technologies for personal and professional use with a mixture of caution and conviction".
There are at present 18 countries in this "Sprinters" grouping, for those with an overall score of between 2,000 to 3,500, which is led by Sweden with an overall score of 3,442, followed by Denmark (3,440), Norway (3,423), Canada (3,319), Netherlands (3,299), Switzerland (3,273), New Zealand (3,249), United Kingdom (3,244), Japan (3,233), Australia (3,139), Singapore (2,965), Hong Kong (2,626), Germany (2,495), Austria (2,414), Israel (2,414), France (2,374), Belgium (2,336) and Ireland (2,263).
In the third grouping of "Striders" nations, Malaysia is still behind 14 other countries such as Taiwan, Korea, Italy, Spain, Czech Republic, UAE, Portugal, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Argentina, Chile, Bulgaria and Russia.
Malaysia should therefore aim for quantum leaps in our social, information and computer infrastructures - which includes restoring the 23 per cent exponential growth of Internet users per month - so that Malaysia can stride into the second grouping of "Sprinters" nations in the Information Imperative Index by the turn of the century.