July 8, 2004

Malaysia to bring internet tech to rural areas

Malaysia planned to create several new "cyber-cities" to expand its rapidly growing internet technology industry and spread the benefit to all Malaysians, the government announced at the weekend.
The move is the second phase of the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) project south of Kuala Lumpur, which has attracted more than a thousand companies, close to 20,000 jobs and a software-driven industry worth 6.5 billion ringgit (US$1.71 billion) since its inception in 1996.
Located in Cyberjaya, the MSC was designed as a hub for multimedia products and services and was the brainchild of former premier Mahathir Mohamad as part of a plan to turn Malaysia into a developed nation by 2020.
The main aim during the first phase of the project was to attract foreign information technology companies and develop new ideas for software.
The MSC's 'Next Leap', spanning 2004 to 2010, would see the setting-up of Cyberjaya-linked hi-tech centres throughout Malaysia, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said at the launch on Saturday.
"This will help bring economic growth to rural areas as well as revitalise other industrial areas around the country," he said.
"This will also help to narrow the existing regional economic and digital divide in our country," he said.
Initially, the government would create so-called "mini-MSCs" in Bayan Lepas, Penang and in the Kulim High Technology Park in Kedah, he said.
Other cyber-cities and cyber-centres would be announced later when their infrastructure was ready, he said.
"Eventually it is envisioned that all new and existing cyber-cities and cyber-centres will work as a synergistic network with Cyberjaya as its hub," he said.
Selected cities and areas outside Cyberjaya would be wired up during the project's second phase, with rural clinics and hospitals being able to use the 'tele-health' programme, Mr Abdullah said.
Blood tests, X-rays and other medical examinations could be electronically delivered to specialists in major cities to analyse for better, quicker and more cost-effective health-care, Mr Abdullah said.
"With these applications, we can show them how technology is important. They will begin to understand what the MSC project is really about and they will see why the government needs to invest in the use of computers and ICT [internet and communication technology]," he told a news conference.
Mr Abdullah said the government had decided to abandon the 'smart school' project - building schools from scratch linked to the internet and using web-enabled teaching methods.
As an alternative, he said the government would equip all 10,000 existing schools in the country with the latest ICT facilities and ensure they used web-enabled teaching and learning methods by 2005.
"It costs the government at least 30 million ringgit to build the structure of a smart school. It would cost much less for a normal school to be equipped with ICT facilities that would make the school smart," he said.
The 87 'smart schools', which had already been built under the project, would, however, continue to operate, he added.
A government official said that the second phase of the MSC project would allow more Malaysians to understand what ICT could do for them in their daily lives.
"Many Malaysians see the MSC as being for the elite, so now the government wants to show that this is not the case. The MSC is for everyone," she said.
Since its inception, the MSC has seen innovations that have created more than 151 patents, 41 industrial designs and 188 trademarks, said Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Jamaluddin Jarjis.
Malaysia generated over 40,000 ICT and computer engineering graduates every year, he added.
The MSC has generated some 19,000 knowledge-based jobs, ICT exports totalling 1.2 billion ringgit and 419 million ringgit in RD expenditure.
In Cyberjaya, there are already 233 MSC-status companies located in an area currently holding a total of two million square feet of office space.

- South China Morning Post (Tuesday, July 6, 2004)

Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"