Sarawak to erect 600 telco towers to achieve 99.9 pct mobile coverage

Abang Johari delivering his winding-up speech at Sarawak Legislative Assembly today (Nov 14, 2018) as seen in this screengrab from a media feed.

By Lian Cheng

KUCHING, Nov 14: Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg says under the Sarawak Digital Economy Strategy, the state government plans to build and commission 600 towers across the state as the issue is pressing.

He said the tender for building the first 300 towers was opened to local network facility providers (NFP) and was closed last Monday (Nov 12).

“The locations of these towers have been chosen based on the critical needs of areas and their ability to act as collector and intermediary to other towers in the rural areas.

“The next phase of the plan will be to increase coverage and to penetrate deeper into the rural areas. For this, another 300 towers will be built to achieve mobile coverage of 99.9 per cent of populated areas in Sarawak,” he revealed when delivering his winding-up speech today.

He said Sarawakians could expect to see an unrestricted choice of preferred mobile network providers throughout the state for affordable and quality telecommunication and broadband access, following the building of these towers.

“As we construct more telecommunications towers near residential areas, there is public concern over electromagnetic frequency or EMF radiation. This issue has already been recognised and taken into consideration by the Sarawak Multimedia Authority (SMA) in its Telecommunication Policy In Sarawak, which governs the construction of telecommunication towers.

“On this highly technical issue, it is important that concerns are raised based on facts in order that our digital initiatives are not delayed unnecessarily by misguided fears,” he said.

On hydrogen production, he said the current hydrogen production facility is being built by Sarawak Energy, while the purchase of hydrogen buses was only pilot projects for research purposes to study the application of hydrogen technology.

“The cost of setting up the pilot facility to power hydrogen fuel-cell buses is about RM15 million, while the cost of three units of hydrogen fuel cell buses is currently under negotiation by Sarawak Economic Development Corporation (SEDC).”

He pointed out that hydrogen-powered buses or fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) are currently at the demonstration stage, with growing deployments in the next 10 years worldwide. Developed countries are now experimenting with such vehicles.

On the issue of banking, Abang Johari said Kuching would be developed as Sarawak’s financial centre.

He said the state used to have Sarawak-based banks, notably Bank Utama, Hock Hua Bank and Wah Tat Bank. As a result of consolidation in the banking industry in 2000, all Sarawak-based banks ‘disappeared’.

Today, there are eight Malaysian banks, of which four are big financial conglomerates among 26 commercial banks operating in Malaysia. Sarawak is now being served only by branches of KL-based banks, which tend to see Sarawak only as a small market for loans although a big market for deposits.

“We wish that they develop strategies for funding Sarawak businesses, understand the local environment and be more prepared to take reasonable risks to nurture local businesses.

“There is a need for Sarawakian banks to help develop businesses. DBOS, the Development Bank of Sarawak, is only a development bank that cannot take deposits from the general public, and our current purpose is only to help redirect Sarawak government deposits back into the state economy through infrastructure development spending for the purpose of building up the capacity for growth of Sarawak.”

He emphasised that future growth would need serious business financing to nurture the local private sector.

“In a way, the inability for small local enterprises in Sarawak to grow is due to the absence of small local banks to help to nurture and finance them. The focus of big banks is big businesses, and the focus of small banks is small businesses. We want more small local Sarawak banks to be established to assist our small business.

“I hope Bank Negara Malaysia can look into this need by issuing at least three new banking licences to be established by the private sector in Sarawak. These could be ordinary commercial banks with boutique functions to help budding businesses to conquer new areas of growth in the state’s economy,” said Abang Johari. — DayakDaily