What is the purpose and function of the MCMC?

TARMIZI: MCMC, or the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, is an industry development agency as well as a regulatory body for the converged telecom, multimedia, and broadcast sector in Malaysia.

What new initiatives is the MCMC currently involved in?

TARMIZI: At any one time there's always a lot of things going on, but what we're trying to achieve foremost is to try and bring access and connectivity to people in Malaysia, irrespective of geographic location. So we have programs and projects and our Universal Service Program with the telcos, to get connectivity and broadband out to the rural areas. I think one of the key focal points now is to try and make broadband mean something to these people and not just mere connectivity. We want to actually show them it is possible, with a little bit of help from broadband, to have economic transformation happening in their own village.

How would you describe the challenges of providing high-level ICT to a country with a challenging geography such as Malaysia?

TARMIZI: Well, actually a lot of people think that East Malaysia and West Malaysia are different. In some senses they are, but in many other respects there are similarities. For example, there are areas in West Malaysia, the rural areas, where connectivity remains a challenge just like East Malaysia, and there are major towns in East Malaysia where the connectivity is quite decent.

I think the key thing that we have to look at is that no one size fits all. When we're looking at trying to provide a solution for connectivity, for broadband, we spend a lot of time talking to the people in the village or in the locality itself, to try and understand what it is that their needs are, how it is that maybe with a little broadband they can improve their lives. Then we work together with the industry to try and get, to put in the right solutions for the people in that place.

For example, in a small community where there are only a few hundred people living, there is absolutely no point to put in a huge cellular base station on a huge tower on a hilltop. So in those areas what we do is we provide nano-cell coverage or micro-cell coverage depending on the requirements. We work with the local community, we work with the service providers, the telcos, and we work with the local authorities. So it's a multi-stakeholder approach to bring connectivity and broadband to the masses.

What do you see as the best investment opportunities in Malaysia’s ICT sector?

TARMIZI: I actually spent a lot of time talking to people in the investment community wanting to look at Malaysia and the region. Having been an investment advisor myself at one point in time, I sort of understood where they're coming from. I think for us, the next area of growth will have to be in content and application development. We have already managed to hit 143% cellular penetration, so the infrastructure is almost there. I'm not saying that we've done our job there, there's a lot more to do. There's a lot of quality of service improvements that need to be done, but we're almost there insofar as the infrastructure is concerned.

What we need to do and what we've been trying to do is to create economic and social upliftment; facilitate economic and social upliftment, by making access to broadband meaningful. So I think if there are people out there who are looking to invest in Malaysia, the areas of interest would be in the areas of content and application development, because at the end of the day broadband is a pipe. I believe what will differentiate is not whether or not someone subscribes to broadband, but the utility value that he or she finds in using the broadband. So it's not just about connections or pipes, it's also about the content.

To what extent is the government of Malaysia investing in ICT?

TARMIZI: I think with the commitment that the government has put in, not just the money, but in terms of consistent policies, clear and transparent processes, and in terms of governance with us as an independent industry regulatory body, I think exciting times are to come for Malaysia. We have a short runway to go towards developed nation status. We aspire to be a developed nation in 2020, or by 2020, and I think we're well on our way. There's a lot more work that needs to be done, a lot of hard work. But I think at least in the ICT space, I think there's some excitement to come.