KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will remain a free market and allow mobile-phone carriers to decide whether to work with equipment makers from China, including Huawei Technologies, during the rollout of the second 5G network, says communications and digital minister Fahmi Fadzil.
“The government itself is not entering into any contractual obligations with any of these network equipment providers,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg News.
“It’s a commercial decision, and the ones who need to be convinced are the telecommunication companies, the mobile network operators.”
Fahmi added, however, that the government will take into consideration concerns voiced by some Western countries over Huawei’s possible participation in the network.
The United States and the United Kingdom, among others, have shunned Huawei equipment and alleged it poses a national security risk due to the company’s potential links with the Chinese government, a claim that Huawei has rejected as unfounded.
Malaysia plans to deploy a second 5G network from as early as January, following a months-long official review of the existing network run solely by the state-owned Digital Nasional Bhd (DNB).
The plan attracted lobbying attempts from Huawei to secure contracts, prompting the US and European Union to warn Malaysia of security risks, according to the Financial Times.
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s government has repeatedly said the contracts to build the second network will be awarded through an open tender process.
Fahmi said his ministry was also looking into strengthening existing laws on mobile network operators and the quality of services they provided. The proposals may be brought to Parliament by the middle of 2024, he added.
“It’s not about just coverage, it’s about how consistently you get good coverage,” he said. The 4G network has reached almost 97% of operated areas in Malaysia, and yet no single operator on its own has achieved that coverage, Fahmi said.
Social media regulation
Meanwhile, Fahmi said that the proposed amendments may also address weaknesses in “ensuring regulatory compliance” from social media platforms, particularly in matters of hate speech and incendiary content.
A recent study led by the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) found that “online users employed divisive language and hate-based narratives around race, religion and royalty” prior to the 15th general election (GE15) last November.
“After election day, content created by young TikTok users to manufacture fear went viral and had high cross-platform amplification. Content on race frequently intersected with religion,” according to the report.
The election resulted in a hung Parliament, with PAS winning the most number of seats.
The study also found that PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang and his party were the biggest amplifiers of race issues. Anwar was eventually named prime minister after receiving the support of former rivals to form a new unity government.
Fahmi said the government was taking steps to prevent such content from proliferating on social media ahead of six state elections set to take place within the next three months. His ministry was engaging with the operators of platforms such as Twitter, Telegram, TikTok, Facebook and Instagram on the matter.
“So far I can say that TikTok, Meta (FB and Instagram) have been very cooperative in terms of engaging with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission,” he said.
“And we hope to continue the good working relationship with most of these social media platforms.”