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Malaysia on the clock as it misses out on another undersea cable

With Malaysia missing out on yet another undersea cable, stakeholders are saying time is running out to reinstate the cabotage exemption lest the country miss out on more digital infrastructure projects.

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In the latest chapter in the cabotage saga, it was announced that Apricot, Facebook and Google’s new subsea cable, aimed at boosting regional connectivity, would bypass Malaysia entirely.

Facebook said in a statement that the cable system, expected to launch in 2024, would provide an initial design capacity of more than 190 tbps to meet rising data demand in the region and support the upcoming Echo and Bifrost cables, which also will not connect to Malaysia.

Speaking to FMT, Malaysia Internet Exchange chairman Chiew Kok Hin said a pair of factors had caused Malaysia to fall victim in this case.

“The cabotage issue would be a key reason, but so too is the ongoing political instability,” he said.

“We are losing cables for as long as a decision is not made to reinstate the exemption, and that isn’t in line with the MyDigital blueprint.”

Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation chairman Rais Hussin Mohamed Ariff said losing out on another key infrastructure project was a “sad thing for Malaysia”, adding that it could forebode future missed opportunities.

“It’s a shame that we are losing such a cable landing, one that would have a massive impact to the economy and employment due to this non-removal of the cabotage policy.

“It’s absolutely a sign of what’s to come.”

Rais said it should be a “logical” move to remove barriers for vessels to undertake repair work, which is what the cabotage exemption was designed to do.

The resignation of the Cabinet has made the future of the cabotage debate even murkier. In April, the Cabinet was supposed to discuss the policy and make a final decision on how the country would move forward, but the results of the meeting were never disclosed.

“I had written to the ministers responsible for making a decision as well as the prime minister last week, but heard nothing back,” Rais said.

“Now the Cabinet is out of a job, I just hope that whoever is coming in to take the ministers’ post will understand this is a critical issue for the nation, especially for attracting hi-tech, high value investments.”

Chiew said Malaysia was now on the clock as these cables were not built regularly.

“Submarine cables today are high capacity and investments are worth in the region of US$300 million to US$400 million,” he said. “So you can’t expect many cables to come through this part of the world.

“There are already three that we’ve missed (Echo, Bifrost and Apricot). If we miss out on another two or three, we will miss out completely.

“If we can’t attract more and better submarine cables, data centres will not flourish, and at that point what sorts of investments can we attract? Will a company like TikTok come here?

“There are ripple effects to the rest of the economy.” Free Malaysia Today

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