Deputy ministers, stop looking for excuses and improve the urban-rural digital divide now — Wong Shu Qi

SEPTEMBER 9 — The responses made by Deputy Minister of Communication and Multimedia Zahidi Zainul Abidin and Deputy Minister of Finance Abdul Rahim Bakri on Veveonah Mosibin’s YouTube video are ridiculous and totally lacked empathy. They should just admit that the digital divide between urban and rural Malaysia is a serious issue and commit to do whatever they can for Malaysians who need better internet connection. 

According to Malaysia Digital Economy Report 2018, the internet access of rural households stood at 78.9 per cent, 10 points lower than urban households. However, both rural and urban areas had very high mobile phone penetration rate which stood at 96.8 per cent and 98.3 per cent respectively. Ironically, there were only 69.4 per cent internet users in rural areas compared to urban users at  84.9 per cent. 

In other words, 17.9 per cent of those in the rural areas with mobile phone did not have access to the internet. The gap will be even larger if we evaluate by the number of actual internet users. 

It is a known fact that our internet facility is still largely lacking behind many countries in South-east Asia in terms of speed and affordability. Therefore Pakatan Harapan managed to lower the price of internet while increasing the speed within five months of forming government. However, till today, no one knows for sure what is Perikatan Nasional's plan or strategy to improve our internet and digital divide.

Instead of bridging the digital divide, both the deputy ministers are in a state of denial by continuing to rebutt and smear Veveonah Mosibin, who highlighted the internet problem in rural Sabah. They could have done better as responsible adults and deputy ministers. The government should acknowledge Veveonah Mosibin’s effort to highlight the problem. We should utilise this opportunity to educate all Malaysians to reduce the digital divide. 

The digital divide between the rich and poor, urban and rural is not only evaluated by internet accessibility, but also whether one has access to computer devices. While some students can afford to take their exam using a laptop or desktop, Veveonah could only use a smartphone. It is not surprising at all as there are only 50.9 per cent rural Malaysian households which have access to computers, a substantial 26.1 per cent gap compared to urban households.

I hope both deputy ministers will at least spend some time to understand the issue and think about the solutions instead of being obsessed with chastising Veveonah despite their euphemistic statements.

Since the implementation of MCO, the Penang state government, Member of Parliament for Seremban Sdr Loke Siew Fook and my own office have launched a campaign to collect second-hand computers, repair and re-issue them to lower income households. 

To date, more than 500 sets have been distributed to deserving students. The campaign not only reduces e-waste, helps lower income families to cope with online classes, but most importantly seeks to reduce the digital divide. I sincerely hope that both deputy ministers will commit to addressing the real problem at hand since they have to power of government policy-making but otherwise, they can just duplicate our computer campaign to help people during this Covid-19 crisis.  

*Wong Shu Qi is Member of Parliament for Kluang.

**This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

Related Articles