MyDigital: Malaysia aims to have the most submarine cable landings in SEA by 2025 but there’s just one problem

Building digital infrastructure is one of the key trusts under the recently announced MyDigital. A solid infrastructure will serve as a strong foundation to advance Malaysia’s digital economy.

Apart from expanding coverage of high-speed broadband access, MyDigital aims to attract more international submarine cables landing in Malaysia to expand global connectivity. Under MyDigital, Malaysia aims to have the highest number of submarine cables landings in Southeast Asia by 2025. This initiative will be led by the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia.

As reported a few months back, tech giants including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and MyIX have expressed concerns with the Ministry of Transport’s decision to revoke the cabotage exemption for foreign vessels conducting undersea cable repairs. The exemption was introduced by former Transport Minister Anthony Loke in 2019 to help speed up undersea cable repairs in Malaysian waters. The requests were made by Telekom Malaysia and Time Dotcom with the support by the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia which was led by former Minister Gobind Singh.

It was reported that undersea cable repairs took up to 27 days due to the cabotage which is way behind other countries in Southeast Asia. As a comparison, undersea cable repairs are said to take 20 days in the Philippines, 19 days in Singapore and 12 days in Vietnam.

The tech giants require submarine cable repair vessels with DP2 capabilities to carry out the job which isn’t available in Malaysia. During the time of revocation, Malaysia only has a DP1 vessel to do the job which is owned by Optic Marine. Current Transport Minister Dr Wee Ka Siong insists that DP1 vessels are sufficient as Malaysian waters are largely shallow. Responding to reports that tech giants will review its cable investments, he said during an interview with The Edge “To me, this is not something that you threaten me [with, you have to] convince me … Some of their arguments are illogical.”

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MDEC has also released a position paper which highlights the repercussions of revoking the exemption. Some of the impacts include internet stability, digital economic growth and foreign investments. If Malaysia wants to attract more cable investments, the cabotage issue needs to tackled quickly to address the concerns of tech companies and the industry.

The Prime Minister has announced today that four cloud service providers, namely Microsoft Google, Amazon and TM have been given conditional approvals to build and manage hyper-scale data centres and cloud services. Between RM12 to 15 billion will be invested over the next 5 years.

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Alexander Wong