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COMMENT | Looking back at Malaysia’s digital journey

COMMENT | As we celebrate 63 years of Merdeka and 57 years since the establishment of the Malaysian federation, I can’t help but look back at all the things our nation has accomplished. Specifically, on the critical strides, we have taken to transform this nation into a global digital economy contributor.

The internet first came to our shores in 1987 and we established the first internet service in Malaysia known as the Rangkaian Komputer Malaysia (RangKoM). It connected all the universities together.

It enabled researchers to communicate with each other and was initially used only by academic institutions, the government, and private agencies. At the same time, 33 years ago on June 8, 1987, the ".MY" domain was born and introduced to the internet.

According to the first Malaysian Internet survey in 1995, only one out of every thousand Malaysians had access to the internet during that time. This grew to 2.6 percent of the population by 1998, and today, Malaysia is one of the most digitally-connected societies in the world, with over 90 percent of Malaysian households having access to the internet.

The future is digital

I still remember the days of dial-up internet. The signature undulating noise of the modem trying to establish a connection to the internet was a good sign that I was about to get connected. Getting connected was a lot slower compared to today’s standards and trying to browse websites was a test of one’s patience.

Even with the slow speed, it achieved one incredibly important purpose, which was to connect homes to the world via the internet. Having a 56-kilobit internet connection in 1998 was akin to driving a Ferrari in the olden days because it was considered the fastest speed that homes could get.

Over the years, internet speed has increased significantly, and in 2020, having a several-hundred megabit connection from home has become the norm.

It is incredible how far technology has advanced over the years and how it has changed our nation for the better. Malaysia has been recognised as Southeast Asia’s second-most digitally-advanced nation on Huawei’s Global Connectivity Index.

Our banking and e-commerce sectors are among the most evolved in the region, ahead of Hong Kong, China, and Singapore. Today, the digital economy contributes to a fifth of Malaysia’s economy and is worth over RM270 billion.

With the rapid growth in digital adoption, the government is determined to drive the agenda forward in ensuring a brighter future for Malaysia and Malaysians alike.

Unlocking the potential of SMEs

Despite the advancements that we have achieved, there is still a lot more work to be done, especially when it comes to supporting the nation’s micro-SMEs, which are the future of Malaysia’s digital economy.

Many businesses have yet to make the move to digital. Only 62 percent of businesses are connected to the internet, with 46 percent having fixed broadband and a mere 18 percent having a web presence of some kind.

This means we must continue our efforts to create awareness and encourage Malaysians to make the digital leap into the future by breaking down the barriers to adoption.

Access to fast, reliable, and affordable internet broadband connectivity is fundamental for the growth and innovation of the country. Having good broadband service and ICT infrastructure is the foundation in transforming the country into a competitive business hub.

We are seeing significant progress, including connectivity in rural and remote areas. The initiative called Jendela that was recently announced by our prime minister is a testament to Malaysia’s focus and aspiration to improve digital communication for Malaysians to compete in the global digital economy.

However, despite the increase in connectivity, large firms are adopting the digital economy in Malaysia at higher rates than SMEs. Most of the digital economy growth is concentrated in urban areas which increases the digital divide between urban and rural.

That is why agencies like MYNIC are tasked with incentivising and encouraging SMEs and micro-SMEs, particularly in rural areas, to bring their businesses from offline to online. We do this in the hope that it will increase internet adoption in rural areas and minimize the digital divide.

MYNIC is honoured to play a role in Malaysia’s digital economy journey, which goes beyond supporting local businesses, consumers, and agencies with their unique internet brand identity.

We firmly believe that inclusivity, training, and development are crucial to realising Malaysia’s digital vision. At MYNIC, we also focus on training the OKU and rural communities to ensure that nobody gets left behind in Malaysia’s digital economy journey.

Our goal is to empower individuals and businesses in embracing digital processes to stay competitive in this current market. I have seen first-hand how so many individuals take their businesses to new heights after going through our training. It truly goes to show that Malaysians have great products and services that are valuable to potential customers locally and globally.

As something to reflect on, Malaysia Day is a day for all Malaysians, regardless of background, age, religion, or ethnicity to celebrate our achievements and also renew our focus and commitment to the future Malaysia and Malaysians.

I hope that we can all come together with the shared vision and goal to strive towards the digital economy. Digitisation is the future, and I look forward to the next chapter in Malaysia’s digital journey.

HASNUL FADHLY HASAN is chief executive officer of MYNIC, an agency under the Communications and Multimedia Ministry which administers Malaysian domain names.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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