Malaysia loses out on Facebook’s latest cable network: sources

Insiders blame ex-transport minister’s removal of cabotage exemption policy as reason behind missed opportunity

KUALA LUMPUR : Malaysia lost an investment opportunity from Facebook Inc after being left out from the tech giant’s latest subsea cable system, people familiar with the matter told The Vibes.

Facebook in a statement yesterday announced its Apricot undersea cable system – a 12,000km-long cable that will connect Guam, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore.

The tech titan is expected to launch the cable system in 2024 “to meet rising data demands in the region and support existing cable systems, such as the recently announced Echo and Bifrost”.

Insiders claimed that missing out on this latest project is another blow to the country’s digital economy ambitions, after it was excluded from the Echo and Bifrost networks.

“What people need to understand is that, generally, it is bad for everyone when a subsea cable is down. This means less volume of data traffic, less money and increased loss of damages,” said a market participant.

They are pointing the finger at former transport minister Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong’s removal of the cabotage exemption policy, which was put in place by his predecessor, Anthony Loke.

Malaysia loses out on Facebook’s latest cable network: sources
Facebook’s Apricot undersea cable system is a 12,000km-long cable that will connect Guam, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore. – Gizchina.com pic

Wee immediately received brickbats as Loke’s policy was believed to have sped up repairs and allayed fears of prolonged internet disruptions, but the former doubled down and defended his move.

On whether the reversal is the reason for Malaysia’s exclusion from the Apricot system, a Facebook spokesman pointed to the announcement blog post, saying “we have no further updates to share at this point”.

But on April 6, The Vibes had reported that Facebook has already put on holdthe landing of two undersea cables in Malaysian waters due to Wee’s stand and the uncertainties brought about by it.

The cabinet decided to review Wee’s decision, with former technology, science and innovation minister Khairy Jamaluddin saying a resolution will be finalised by April 28. But nothing official has come out since.

A source said the effects of constantly missing out on such opportunities will mean that the country will trail after its neighbours in digital infrastructure investments and further dim its prospects of becoming an internet hub.

Tech investors are also not expecting anything significant on the matter, following Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s resignation as prime minister today.

“At this rate, with the names being bandied about, I do not think it matters who takes over Muhyiddin, whose government revoked the cabotage exemption and led us to this point in the first place.

“But, like every investor you have asked, I will just wait and see how things unfold. If the cabotage issue is not resolved quickly, there are other countries in the region to consider.”

By : Emmanuel Samarathisa – THE VIBES

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