Rabu, Disember 9

Is Telekom Malaysia wrongly criticised?

THE general consensus seems to be that Telekom Malaysia Bhd (TM) is always to blame for most of our telecommunications woes.

Like many incumbent telcos around the world, TM is seen as a labyrinth that struggles to move with the times and is stingy about lending access to third parties to its widely built networks, despite the historical fact that much of the cost of those networks was borne by taxpayers’ money.

(TM like many other incumbents such as British Telecom and Deutsche Telekom were previously wholly-owned by the state.)

But the dynamics of the industry have changed, which makes one wonder if TM has a case in saying it is unjustifiably criticised. Consider these facts:

● TM can no longer be seen as the giant in the telecommunications sector. The mobile operators dwarf TM by many counts. For example, Maxis Bhd’s latest third-quarter pre-tax profit is almost four times what TM made in the same period. Maxis also has 11.4 million customers, compared with TM’s 4.3 million fixed-line users.

● TM still maintains a social obligation in wiring up parts of the country. Industry players do not dispute the fact that TM actually “loses money” for every fixed line it rolls out. Estimates are that it costs TM about RM45 a month to wire up a home with a fixed line but TM only charges a rental of around RM20 per month. On the flip side, TM is able to make back some of that investment from call charges but that too has come under increasing pressure due to intensifying competition.

● Technically, TM does not hold a monopoly over fixed line and by extension, fixed broadband rollout. That is by virtue of the fact that all parties holding a network facilities provider licence are able to do so but choose not to.

● While commentators (yours truly included) keep harping about why TM isn’t opening up its networks to third parties, there are other developments in the marketplace that need closer attention.

For example, when Astro – effectively a satellite pay-TV monopoly – recently inked a content-sharing deal with Maxis, one wonders if Astro is open to inking similar deals with other mobile operators in the market, on the same terms that it has done with Maxis? (At the point of writing, this has yet to be checked with Astro.)

So what we have now is that TM is no longer a giant, relatively speaking; it does play a social obligatory role although the extent of that isn’t entirely clear; it seemingly isn’t the only one that should be examined when it comes to infrastructure sharing and finally, it is going where others fear to tread, namely rolling out a high-speed fibre-optic network.

So these are things to think about before one takes a swipe at TM. Fair enough. But there’s just one more thing that would tend to tip the balance against TM, especially with regard to infrastructure sharing.

TM is getting help from the Government (in the form of RM2.4bil) to roll out its high-speed broadband network (HSBB).

No other telco or celco is receiving such help. Is the help justified? And why didn’t the Government go with the way of other countries like Singapore and Australia? These countries created a separate entity to build and own the network and the government, the incumbent telco and all other players jointly owned that company.

Such plans were talked about in Malaysia but in the end the Government chose to give it to TM on the rationale that the country needs the HSBB quickly and that the only party with the necessary expertise to pull this off was TM.

One wonders if TM itself sees the Government aid as something of a burden, as without it, perhaps TM would have come under less scrutiny. But then again, TM isn’t wasting much time in using that money, having already claimed from the Government a sizeable chunk of the allocation. And as long as that is going on, TM should expect its moves to be examined closely, especially with regard to how it shares the HSBB with other players for the benefit of the end users.

Deputy news editor Risen Jayaseelan thinks that TM should quickly disclose the terms and conditions of open access to the HSBB, which in turn, should be considered a national asset, considering that taxpayers’ money is being used in its rollout.

dipetik dari SINI

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