Tara Marchelin, Jakarta – The government has to improve digital infrastructure around the country, especially in poorer remote areas, since fast internet connection will be one of the essential services of a "new normal," the House of Representatives' Commission I chairwoman Meutya Hafid said on Wednesday.
Many Indonesians are stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic and forced to rely on the internet to stay connected with the outside world. As a result, demand for faster internet has risen.
"In the new normal, internet connection will be an essential infrastructure. Digital infrastructure should be built in every corner of the country. But the reality is we still have internet inequality, and regional areas are the ones who suffer," Meutya said in an online discussion with the Communication and Information Technology Ministry.
According to the lawmaker, many regional areas in Java and even more outside the most populated island in Indonesia still don't have an adequate internet connection.
For instance, internet speed in Jakarta can reach up to 10 Mbps while people in Maluku and Papua would be lucky to enjoy 300 kbps. "People in Maluku and Papua also pay extra for the internet. It's not fair. Internet rates should be the same everywhere," Meutya said.
In Jakarta, a two-gigabyte internet package costs Rp 65,000 ($4.50) but in Papua and Maluku it can cost Rp 120,000.
To overcome the digital infrastructure inequality, Meutya said there should be more cooperation between stakeholders. The House of Representatives and the government had already included an infrastructure sharing scenario in the job creation bill, she added.
"According to this scenario, companies providing telecommunication infrastructure will cooperate with the government to develop internet infrastructure throughout Indonesia. We hope this scheme will create a more efficient development of internet infrastructure," Meutya said.
The Communication and Information Technology Ministry's director-general for postal service and informatics, Ahmad Ramli, admitted more than 12,000 villages in 3T (Frontier, Outermost and Remote) areas and non-3T areas still don't have 4G internet network.
"A total of 12,548 villages don't have 4G internet network, 9,113 are in 3T areas and more than 3,000 in non-3T areas," Ramli said.
In the non-3T areas, the internet network will be developed by telcos while in 3T areas it will be developed by the ministry's Telecommunication and Information Accessibility Agency (BAKTI).
Ramli said 3T areas lack digital infrastructure because for telcos they offer very little in economic terms. Nevertheless, they still deserve an adequate internet network and cellular signal, according to the director.
The deputy chairman of the Indonesian Telecommunication Providers Association (ATSI), Merza Fachys, said installing digital infrastructure in remote areas costs 30 percent more than in the cities. Operating cost there is also two times more expensive than in urban areas due to the difficult terrain.
"Meanwhile, the revenue [for the telcos in remote areas] is ten times lower compared to what they get from urban areas. This is the main cause of the disparity in digital infrastructure between urban and remote areas," Merza said.
Merza said remote areas are often larger than urban areas but the population density is much lower, meaning that the expensive digital infrastructure is often used by very few people and generates little revenue.
"Telecommunication companies need immediate investment that can reduce their capital and operational expenditure so digital infrastructure development in regional areas can be expedited," he said.