WiFi in rural areas by next year

Chief Minister wants at least 50 per cent of rural schools covered by the end of 2009

KUCHING: WiFi (wide fidelity) Internet penetration into the rural areas in Sarawak may even start next year with support from the federal government.

Chief Minister Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud said the states target was to cover at least 50 per cent of the rural schools with WiFi service by the end of 2009 to enable rural students and teachers to communicate in the Internet.

With the support of the federal government it would quicken the WiFi penetration process in the rural areas, he pointed out.

Our target is to cover 50 per cent of the rural areas by the end of next year (2009). We have got some indications from the federal government that they will support our efforts, Taib said when met at the state-level Teachers Day celebrations in Stadium Perpaduan in Petra Jaya yesterday.

It was previously anticipated that the WiFi Internet penetration into the rural areas would be possible by 2010.

In his speech earlier, Taib reasoned that when WiFi Internet service covered about 50 per cent of the rural schools, half of the communication-related problems would then be solved. This would narrow, if not close, the digital divide faster between urban and rural areas, he said.

In view of this, he urged parents, teachers and schools to encourage the students to master ICT, including the Internet, to enable them to tap opportunities made available by the WiFi coverage.

Students would be able to communicate with their friends in Malaysia and from outside the country, he said, adding that ICT was not that hard to master.

Teachers should also exploit the WiFi service to enable them to be more informative and efficient as guides to students. Due to this technological advancement teaching would also be more effective as information and knowledge could be obtained locally and also abroad.

Datuk Amar Puan Sri Laila Taib, Housing Minister Dato Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg, Assistant Minister in the Chief Ministers Department Datin Fatimah Abdullah, Assistant Minister of Environment Dr Abdul Rauf Abang Zen and state Education director Dr Julaihi Bujang were among those present.

The state-level Teachers Day celebrations, themed Guru Cemerlang Negara Terbilang also saw the presentation of excellence service awards Anugerah Tokoh Khas Kepimpinan Pendidikan Sarawak and Tokoh Guru Negeri Sarawak 2008 as well as cultural performances, choir-singing, poetry recitals, and a surprise birthday cake for Taib who turned 72 on Wednesday.

The WiFi Internet service is nothing new at hip bars and cafes. Soon people would be able to surf the Internet even at the bus stop or while riding the bus.

At the just concluded State Legislative Assembly (May 5-14) sitting, members were told that the government had promised that WiFi service would be available in Kuching, Bintulu and Sibu by the end of this year at the latest. Since late last year, the service had been on trial in the resort city of Miri.

Assistant Minister of Infrastructure Development and Communication Lee Kim Shin said more than 100 WiFi bases were being set up in these three places.

Seventy WiFi bases would be installed in and around Kuching City, of which nine had been completed, Lee told the DUN during question-and-answer session.

In Sibu, 25 base stations were being planned - seven of which had been installed. For Bintulu, 25 WiFi base stations had been planned.

Presently about 60 to 70 per cent of planned WiFi-enabled areas in Miri were in operation, Lee said, adding that the main WiFi beneficiaries were concentrated in town and city areas.