The Jakarta Post
Monday’s launch of the Palapa Ring’s eastern package completes the overall Rp 21.63 trillion (US$ 1.5 billion) broadband infrastructure development project across the archipelago with coverage up to the outermost parts of the country. It is long-overdue good news in the pursuit of more equitable access to information and for internet-enabled economic opportunities for all Indonesians.
As Indonesia inches closer to becoming Southeast Asia’s largest digital economy with a market value tripling to $130 billion by 2025 from the current value, growth is still centered on urban cities with burgeoning demand for e-commerce products and ride-hailing services. In remote areas, and sometimes not so remote, the internet connection remains patchy and even nonexistent, causing a digital divide that has become a new source of inequality in Southeast Asia’s largest economy.
Around 65 percent of Indonesia’s 264 million people were connected to the internet in 2018, according to the Indonesian Internet Providers Association (APJII), among the lowest penetration rates in Southeast Asia. Even for those who are connected, the internet speed in Indonesia, at 200 megabits per second (Mbps), is the slowest in the region, faster only than Cambodia, discouraging users from exploring online. Indonesia ranks 125th in the world for mobile speeds and 104th for fixed broadband speeds, with less than 10 percent of households connected to the internet, Speedtest data show.
The Palapa Ring is expected to answer many of these issues so that the rosy outlook of Indonesia’s digital economy and Industry 4.0 will not only be seen in major cities but also in westernmost Sabang, easternmost Merauke, northernmost Miangas and southernmost Rote, and thoroughly across the archipelago.
Studies have shown how an increase in broadband take-up can result in higher gross domestic product growth. A universal, fast and reliable internet connection will lay the foundation for the overall productivity of the economy through more connected market participants. Beyond the economic angle, the world now regards access to the internet as a basic human right, as it provides basic knowledge on social issues such as health and education and is necessary to advances research and innovation.
The government should not stop at hard infrastructure. The connecting of 5.8 million citizens previously uncovered by speedy internet in 57 cities and regencies using 12,148 kilometers of fiber optic cable and 55 microwave link hops, should be followed by digital-literacy programs.
With greater internet connectivity comes higher risk of misuse. Hoax news and misinformation were clearly at the forefront of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s mind when he launched the Palapa Ring’s eastern package. Balancing freedom of speech and the nation’s security should be high on the government’s agenda following the broadband rollout, so as to avoid blocking the internet to prevent negative content.
The Palapa Ring, taking on the spirit of the 14th century Javanese Majapahit empire, should stay true to Gajah Mada’s famous oath, which lends hope to its name: the program should unite Nusantara, the archipelago, through universal broadband internet.