Anwar raises caution over 5G infrastructure monopoly, reminds govt of 1MDB fiasco if tender matters lack transparency

Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim addresses members of Parliament in Dewan Rakyat December 2, 2021. — Bernama pic
Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim addresses members of Parliament in Dewan Rakyat December 2, 2021. — Bernama pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 8 — Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim today cautioned the government over the seemingly monopolistic nature of the infrastructure development for the fifth-generation (5G) network, reminding the Communications and Multimedia Ministry (KKMM) of the irregularities which brought down 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

In his Budget 2022 debate on the ministry, the Port Dickson MP said that he felt relieved with minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa’s statement yesterday that the Cabinet will make its final decision on the single wholesale model for the rollout of the 5G network by January 2022, after gauging responses from telecommunication companies and industry stakeholders.

Annuar was reported saying that the Cabinet was still discussing whether to deploy 5G via a single wholesale network (SWN) system or provide multiple systems to allow some competition.

However, he said as for now, Digital Nasional Bhd (DNB) will continue with its plan of delivering 5G services via SNW.

DNB, which is owned by the Minister of Finance (Incorporated), has been mandated by Putrajaya to be the single neutral party undertaking the deployment of the 5G infrastructure and network throughout Malaysia.

“Firstly I want to refer to the minister’s statement yesterday, that it is a little relief on the 5G, that there has not been a final decision and his willingness to raise it for Cabinet consideration, so that there is a re-evaluation, looking at all considerations, concerns which were raised by many parties, including MNOs mobile network operators) or telcos.

“One thing that is also worrying is that the 5G network will be centered in urban areas. I seek an explanation from the minister because if this happens, the gap will widen and the situation of the communities in villages and rural areas will be more affected. As it is, there is no 4G now already and we go on to create 5G, and we leave them too. So this is a matter which needs to be given attention.

“What are the issues raised? The lobbying by companies is truly aggressive. Not only the government side, but also the opposing ones. It’s not about us agreeing or not, but the issues raised are, firstly, whether such a monopolistic system can be maintained in our country and what is the effect of the monopoly? That’s the first.

“Secondly, the contract must be more transparent. Without this transparency, we don’t know why the award went to Ericsson, not to Huawei or other companies, and what is the tender’s cost. Why keep it a secret and next, what is the real cost? The statement was not from the minister, but previously, (said to be) RM15 billion, RM18 billion, RM20 billion. This is almost as big as 1MDB. I want to remind the minister that if a mistake is made, it will end up like 1MDB in court,” Anwar said.

He also urged Annuar to pay attention to the matter so that the real cost can be known and “traced from now on.”

Anwar added that telcos have also expressed worry over the high cost of the 5G project.

“Burdensome to them. Why can’t space be provided for a more transparent and free competition,” he said, adding that though the government has the power to force or influence the telcos as most have shareholdings from government companies, it is not a healthy indicator for the country’s economy.

“If this is not done in a more transparent manner, I am worried that this will erode the confidence of investors in the country and abroad, in our capabilities,” he added.

Currently, DiGi.Com Bhd and Celcom are undergoing a merger process, which has been formally received and is pending approval from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).

In this context, the Ministry of Finance’s decision to deploy 5G via a single wholesale network (SWN) system had been criticised, with detractors likening the move to a monopoly.

Critics, including Opposition lawmakers, previously claimed some of the risks linked to the SWN approach is poorer service quality and higher 5G service prices for end-users.

However, DNB officials have repeatedly dismissed such concerns.

Under the SWN approach, the government-owned DNB will deploy Malaysia’s 5G network with equal access to mobile network operators (MNOs). This is in contrast with the current practice where MNOs have deployed parallel 4G networks.

In numerous reports, DNB officials have reiterated that their model will benefit MNOs by reducing cost and gaining better revenue from the leasing of their existing towers and fibre optic cables.

DNB chief commercial officer Ahmad Taufek Omar said the company has offered a free trial of its 5G services wholesale to all MNOs in the country.

The offer is applicable from December 15 to March 31 next year and for all 5G live sites in Putrajaya, Cyberjaya and parts of Kuala Lumpur, national news agency Bernama reported yesterday.

So far, only Telekom Malaysia has confirmed that it will be taking advantage of DNB’s offer to conduct 5G trials.

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