World Telecommunications Day, 17 May 1995
We now live in an age characterized by the free and rapid flow of information, where time and space are merged into a new dimension. Some call this wonderful dimension Cyberspace, others call it the Net, the Web, the Electronic Frontier, the Information Superhighway. Whatever you call it, it is no longer the stuff of science fiction fantasy. Not only is it a fact, it has become a crucial fact of our existence. None of us can afford to be left behind in this information revolution.
Such information which now flows through the veins and arteries of the global telecommunications infrastructure provides the greatest opportunity for human development through creative, innovative and cognitive enhancement. The globalization of social, economic and political interaction through the Information Superhighway has created a borderless world. The comparative position of a country is now determined more by its ability to project itself on the world stage through electronic means than any other medium. Telecommunications has become a critical infrastructure for a nation to position itself vis-a-vis other nations. Indeed, the world community is driven more and more by the ability to control the flow of information within a particular country and between different countries.
Thus the theme, "Telecommunications and the Environment," is indeed appropriate and significant. Telecommunications provides the essential infrastructure for the monitoring and measurement of meteorological phenomena. That has been its traditional role vis-a-vis the environment. However, a more important role which has greater ramifications in our daily lives has emerged in recent times.
As we progress in the field of information technology, electronic communication will eventually minimize the need for physical communication. Thus the need to travel to perform an economic or social function is already less now than before, reducing the use of physical resources such as fuel, and decreasing pollution. Using the latest technologies, such as remote sensing satellites, we can now monitor the land, air and sea more efficiently and effectively in such a way as to optimize the use of our resources and provide the means for early detection and possible prevention of environmental disasters.
In order to achieve this, two requirements are essential. First, a reliable and widespread telecommunications infrastructure; and second, the restructuring of work processes and organizations. In this regard, Malaysia has for several years pursued policies aimed at making the country a major telecommunications center. The first major step was taken when we privatized Telekom Malaysia, and liberalized the industry by issuing licenses to private elecommunications operators. The rationale for this was to bring about qualitative enhancement and cost reductions through competition, and easier and wider public access to the latest technologies. Whilst in 1989 there was only one licensed operator other than Telekom Malaysia, by the end of this year a total of seven cellular telephone networks will be in operation. We expect that by the year 2000, there will be 3,000,000 subscribers to the cellular networks. In addition to this, Malaysia's long-distance telecommunications networks will be further boosted by the establishment of extensive optical fibre networks, and the launching of the Measat satellites within a few years.
As a result of the liberalization policy, there are a large number of vendors who are free to sell approved equipment direct to the user. Of course, the Telecoms Department will only grant Approved Permits for the importation of telecommunications equipment if they meet the required standards.
Last year, we launched the National Telecommunications Policy with the aim of providing long-term direction for the development of telecommunications. In the same year, we also established the National Information Technology Council with the primary aim of formulating a more integrated and focussed approach in developing information technology programmes. This is a high- powered council, with a membership of 20 people from both the public and private sectors, under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister. As an upshot of these developments, a Telecommunications Master Plan is being drawn up to identify strategic action programmes and the related objectives to be met.
There is therefore no escaping the need to construct a National Information Superhighway that is consistent with our social and economic requirements if we are to move ahead towards developed nation status. Its most important feature should be the ability to handle multimedia communication for social and economic development. It must be linked to the global network so that we become part of the global community, and capable of exploiting the most advanced information technologies. Telecommunications should not be limited to the provision of basic services, but it should move into advanced and value-added services as well as the manufacturing of equipment. We must waste no time in constructing this National Information Superhighway.
The National Information Superhighway should provide opportunities for civil servants to work across the "normal" borders of their departments and ministries to reach out to the public and businesses. Thus quality services can be delivered in the most efficient, effective and timely way. This total intra and inter-departmental communications would eventually lead to a "borderless" modern bureaucracy.
If we as a nation are to significantly boost our national productivity, it is critical for both our government and private enterprises to restructure our work processes and re-engineer our organizations. This must be followed by the realignment of information systems to match the improved processes.
It is imperative that we accelerate the establishment of the National Information Superhighway so as to empower our industry and citizenry with information and knowledge. One of the characteristics of the information revolution is the explosion of its control from a select few to the larger public. Since the establishment of JARING by MIMOS last year Malaysians can now via Internet cruise through the global information networks, thus enabling us to retrieve and command information at the touch of a finger. However, it is sad to note that the response of Malaysians towards Jaring until today has been disappointing. At present, the total number of subscribers is only 3,000, a dismal figure compared to the number of subscribers in a neighbouring country (Singapore). While people in the developed world are actively involved and using Internet, the global information network, the response from Malaysians have been slow. This is unfortunate because the amount of information we can gather from the Internet is enormous. Through Jaring, the local information network, Malaysians are linked to the global community via a wide array of data banks, providing information on economics and business, and from arts to sports. We have recognized the strategic importance of information technology in the efforts to meet the goals of national development. If we are to continue to enjoy progress, we must become part of the global community capable of exploiting the most advanced information technologies for our own development.
The problem lies in the inability of our society to recognize the importance of information. This is unfortunate indeed since the world is cruising into an era when information may very well be the trump card for a nation's economic and social progress. We must begin to develop the ability to handle multimedia communications for social and economic development. While we have made great strides in the field of information technology, much more must be done if we are to realize the dream of joining the major league of industrialized nations by the year 2020.
On that note, I have great pleasure in launching this gathering to commemorate World Telecommunications Day 1995.