Saturday, July 27, 2013


Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek

Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek is not someone who will fuss over how many VIP tables are needed at industry events or who should be seated on the VIP tables. He is someone who is practical and wants to just get things going. That is the breath of fresh air the communications and multimedia industry needs as it races forward in a competitive environment. Here are some of his thoughts on issues relevant to the industry.
What is your priority since taking on as the minister of a very powerful industry, and what are your initial thoughts as to what should be the direction taken by the industry going forward?
Firstly, I am very honoured to be given the trust and responsibility by the Prime Minister to be the steward to helm this ministry. Secondly, in so far as your description of a powerful industry, I would like to say that though the industry may be large and influential, it is really the people that have the power with them. It is the people who can exercise their choice as a consumer and the industry will have to take heed of the choices made by their customers, if they want to stay ahead of their competition.
As to the direction to be taken, I think it is too soon for me to share this publicly but I can assure you that I am listening very intently to the information and feedback that I have received so far from those connected and involved in this industry. This is a very large and dynamic industry where there is a lot of competition and requires heavy investments. We need to be careful in policy formulation to ensure that we strike the right balance between consumer needs and industry needs while at the same time taking into account the government needs as well.
There is been a lot of talk about USP and the way the funds have been utilised, and doubts too as though the objective has not been achieved. How do you think this fund should be used to benefit the rakyat and nation?
I agree with you that I think there is too much talk about USP. I also notice that many people have opinions about the fund and yet do not seem to have read the rules and regulations governing the USP Fund and how it is to be used.
I believe, based on its existing design and on the existing laws, to date it has achieved the objectives that it set out to do. Our rural population is more connected now with the hundreds of telecom towers that have been built using the USP funds and many villages and communities have also benefited from the broadband access made available by the proper utilisation of the USP Fund. We can continue to improve on how we administer the USP Fund and the scope of it but I would be keen to hear views on what else can be done with the fund – what and how do you think it should be used for?
Social media is a new phenomenon in communication. What are your views on its development, implications and should its growth be curbed or regulated?
Social media is much often quoted but perhaps little understood. It is a new means or medium of allowing people to stay in touch and communicate. I believe that social media in itself is a neutral tool. There is nothing positive or negative about it. How it is used or abused that becomes the issue.
People must learn and understand that every country has its own sets of laws and socio-cultural values and norms and we, as Malaysians would do well to remember that. Whatever applies in the real world also applies in the social media or online world, there is no difference. I think all of us would also do well to remember that whilst we have freedom to express ourselves, freedom is not without boundaries.
Freedom must come with accountability and responsibility. This is not simply just from me but even the most developed nations with arguably the most open democracies have limits as to what their “freedom” allows them to do.
The regime on spectrum allocation to dissemination has been often questioned and it is perceived that the industry has too many players, too much infrastructure and allocated spectrum is being kept instead of rolling out services. Furthermore the industry’s eye is on how the 700Mhz spectrum will be allocated and would the allocation of the DTB be transparent and based on merit? What is your view on all that?
The regulator is handling that element of it and I will take advice from the regulator when the time comes for a decision. There is no need to speculate on whether there are too many players, too much infra and what people will or will not do with the assets or spectrum that they have. We have healthy competition in the industry and we have rules of engagement set by the regulator. The industry is also best advised to abide by those rules which they themselves subscribed to, otherwise, they may have to face the consequences of their inaction or non-compliance.
Let’s also not speculate on the 700Mhz, that will take a long while yet. I have been advised that the 700MHz spectrum cannot even be released until we complete the migration from analogue to digital and complete a full analogue switch-off. Given commitments we have with our neighbours in common border areas, the digital dividend arising from the analogue switch off will not be available until all sides are ready; that is estimated to be circa 2020.
As for digital TV, you probably already know that the MCMC has already spelt out a very detailed and structured beauty contest and tender process. I have been advised that the three shortlisted bidders have recently submitted their detailed business plan submissions in accordance to the timelines set out in the tender documents and that the MCMC is currently evaluating the same. The process is under way (as what has been committed to), so let them finish their job. If you see the details in the tender document, you will understand that the requirements are stringent and I am sure all the shortlisted bidders know that too. Let’s not speculate.

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