Nearly RM300 million of federal government money is to be invested in providing cellular phone coverage to 85 per cent of Sarawak, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, revealed during a visit to Kuching in March 2016.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Enhanced wifi coverage and high speed broadband services will play a key role in promoting the digital economy in Sarawak, Datuk Seri Najib said, encouraging the rapid growth of e-learning, e-government, e-banking and e-commerce.

“In Sarawak, we have not even solved the development divide, let alone the digital divide,” said Najib. “But give it five years. Sarawak will not be left out of the national agenda for the digital economy.”

Malaysia’s national policy calls for the digital economy to contribute 20 per cent of the country’s GDP by 2020. This is especially relevant to Sarawak and the SCORE region, as digital activities can be carried out from any location, from a longhouse to the centre of Kuching or Miri.

“We have huge plans,” said Najib. “Among others, we already have e-Rezeki and e-Usahawan to train Malaysians to earn extra income in the digital market. People can earn an extra RM300 to RM400 a month by spending two or three hours a day working in the digital world.”

Workers trained by e-Rezeki – including students, housewives and retired people – are already undertaking paid work such as information searches, categorising images and writing content for both international corporations and local companies.

To make this kind of activity possible, RM290 million has been approved for the first phase of Sarawak’s connectivity improvement programme.

As part of its plans to widen access to 3G, 4G and wifi services in Sarawak, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) is building 150 communication towers and setting up a network of 438 wifi hotspots, in cooperation with Celcom, Digi, Maxis, RedTone and Measat. A new state-of-the-art undersea cable link to the peninsular, costing RM850 million, will be completed in three years’ time.

The Prime Minister promised Sarawak’s high speed broadband services would be enhanced to 10Mbits/s in the towns, with a target of 4Mbits/s in rural districts.

All areas, including longhouses, would enjoy these services, he said, explaining that the aim was to put Sarawak on a par, digitally, with Peninsular Malaysia.

This second phase work will require an investment of at least RM1.8 billion, funded partly through Public Private Partnerships.