An open letter to Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek

Stephen Ng

Modified 6 Jul 2015, 7:05 am

Recently, Communication and Multimedia Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek claimed that the results of Ookla Global Net Index test were inconclusive, therefore, it gave an unfair ranking for Malaysia, whose broadband speed at 5.9 mbps is better than two other Third World economies, namely Cambodia (5.6Mbps) and Myanmar (5.7Mbps).

According to the survey done , Malaysia is currently placed at 126 out of 192 nations in terms of Internet broadband speeds. In short, we are at the bottom half of the spectrum worldwide.

In my opinion, it is either the minister is sleeping on the job or he is simply not taking the report seriously enough to tackle the major issues affecting the level of quality in the Internet services provided by TM and its partners.

I am sure in his own constituency Kemaman, there are similar issues to those faced by the undersigned. I hope that the press would take up this issue and pursue it further with the minister himself.

This sad state of affair about our Internet connectivity and speed is despite huge budgets being spent on the infrastructure. Malaysia is aiming to become a developed nation by 2020, which is hardly even five years from now, but we are only comparable to Cambodia and Vietnam.

According to Shabery, another RM5.7 billion has been allocated for the purpose of improving broadband speeds and Internet penetration. Exactly how and where this money is going to be used to upgrade the services so that we are on par with other Asian countries like South Korea and Taiwan has yet to be seen.

Huge budgets have also been allocated for the education ministry, but we are still at the bottom third of the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) score.

Snail’s pace

Cyberjaya was launched with a big bang during the era of former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad. This was supposed to be the Silicon Valley of Malaysia.

I remember about 15 years ago, when Cyberjaya first launched its Internet TV, no one in the country could view the programmes due to the low Internet speeds. Today, although we can watch Cyberjaya TV, unfortunately, the television station had to be discontinued and run mainly like any other portals.

it did not come as a surprise that Cyberjaya TV could not sustain itself. They were well ahead of their time, because when money was pumped into setting up the station, the infrastructure was nowhere there at all. I remember a previous producer of Cyberjaya TV complaining to me that people could watch Cyberjaya TV from anywhere around the world, except Malaysia.

Today, the same irony exists. We are supposed to be five years away from being a developed nation, yet our Internet services and connectivity continue to be a major issue facing home and business users. This, despite the service providers having raked probably billions in profits.

Over the years, I have used Jaring dial-up, Streamyx, P1 broadband, Maxis Broadband and Celcom Broadband. As expected, Jaring in the early days was extremely slow. When Streamyx came around, we were all hoping for better services but after using it for a few years, its speed was nowhere to what we required for our home connection.

The connection was poor. There was always the disconnection problems encountered and the response from TM Net was poor.

We then looked at P1, hoping that it being a private company would be much better and we could then terminate Streamyx. Within just one week, I had to return to the company the modem and seek a refund. Celcom Broadband was just as bad, where we had no choice but to terminate Celcom Broadband after trying it out for a year.

I remember walking into Celcom’s office to return the modem, insisting that I would not pay even a single sen for the poor connectivity. Throughout the entire period, I had complained to Celcom and the Malaysian Commissions for Multimedia & Communications (MCMC) about near-zero connectivity, but nothing was done to upgrade its services in the area I stayed.

After switching to Maxis Broadband, there was at least some connectivity but it was also very unreliable. Throughout this period, I had to continue to depend on Streamyx for a back-up plan and the Maxis Broadband was only used when I travel.  

Empty promises

Promises were made by all the providers but once we signed up for a year’s contract, the level of service becomes a pain-in-the-neck.

Complaints to Celcom, for example, about the broadband speed instability were not resolved. Although Maxis was more proactive than Celcom, they too had a similar problem that the lines were congested or their nearest tower was located too far from my home. This was always the type of excuses one gets when complaints were lodged.

When ABNXcess was launched with a big bang more a year ago, the company also made huge promises. Billboards in red carrying the company’s advertisements were huge and impressive. Their sales staff (or agents) were out there pushing for sign-ups.

When I was first approached by a salesperson, I told her that I did not want to try any more service providers, but after several months of experiencing problems with both Streamyx and the other two broadband services, I finally decided to give it a go.

Lo and behold, the service was good for the first year. In fact, I was encouraging my friends to install ABNXcess, but since the beginning of this year, the company has been facing numerous problems such as frequent damages to its cables, shortage of technicians to rectify the problems encountered by clients as well as below par customer service personnel who did not record the customers’ complaints.

It often takes more than three days to fix a problem, even if it was just a simple issue like changing a modem. Damage to its cables had taken nearly a week to resolve some time early this year. This was despite all the complaints raised to the management of ABNXcess, with carbon copy of the emails to both Shabery and the complaints unit of MCMC.

Each time it happened, it is always on a Friday. To me, it appears more like a sabotage on the ground, although the company has denied any form of sabotage.

One of the technicians who turned up at my house to investigate the complaint told me that a lot of the company’s technicians have left and he too was thinking of leaving because his salary had allegedly not been paid yet. This makes it difficult for the company to genuinely look into complaints raised.

Although the complaint has been raised to Shabery through a number of email correspondence which was copied to him, I am appalled that nothing has yet been done to improve the services. Last Friday, it happened again. At the time of writing (1.30pm July 6), the connection has not been restored.

Several Whatsapp messages and SMSes have been sent to their management staff, as well as an email to both the CEO of ABNXcess and Shabery. I am hoping that the service providers in this country as well as the Multimedia and Telecommunications Ministry could buck up, or else they should be shipped out.

Failure of minister

Shabery’s failure is also the failure of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, who appointed him as minister. I want the prime minister to also pay attention to crucial issues like this in the same manner Dr Mahathir had done in the past with ministers who were slacking.

As it is, it appears to me that the ministry is not taking complaints seriously especially on the level of quality provided by the service providers.

In the same breath, I would like to urge Shabery to liberalise the service providers. At this juncture, there is no true competition between the major service provider TM Net and the other service providers which have to lease the lines.

Licences can be issued to individual companies, but competition can only be real when they do not have to go through one common provider, TM Net. Tell us, Shabery, for a licence to be issued, is there any hidden costs involved?

Otherwise, what is the objective of issuing more licenses when there is simply no competition between these small players and the government-linked corporations?

You might as well allow TM Net to be the sole provider without all the re-packaging, rebranding and the added profits at every tier, making our Internet services more expensive to consumers but low in quality.

STEPHEN NG is an ordinary citizen with an avid interest in following political developments in the country since 2008.