Lesley Moore, Kuala Lumpur
IT Multinationals Flock to Multimedia Super Corridor
Leading global information technology companies are vying to take part in Malaysia's ambitious Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) project, a hi-tech zone built specifically to produce and test cutting-edge multimedia applications.
Among these are Sun Microsystems Inc and Microsoft Corp of the US, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) Corp of Japan, Northern Telecom Ltd of Canada and SAP AG of Germany.
The companies are keen to help develop several of the flagship applications identified by the government for the 15km x 50km zone.
The four main applications are: electronic government, which allows paperless access for citizenry to government services; tele-medicine, which allows remote access to expert health care and diagnosis; 'smart' schools, which promote extensive use of computers for learning; and a multipurpose 'smart' card, which contains a bearer's personal and medical information and offers access to credit facilities, automated teller machines, transport and club services.
The carrot that is drawing investors to commit early to the project is the government's offer of 'MSC status'.
MSC Status Gives Major Advantage
Companies with MSC status will receive preference for incentives within the hi-tech zone. Among these are unrestricted import of knowledge workers, 100% foreign ownership of companies, 10-year tax holidays, globally competitive telecom tariffs and preference to tenders for key MSC infrastructure contracts.
The MSC zone stretches from the capital city Kuala Lumpur to the new international airport currently under construction in Sepang in the south.
Besides high-speed road and rail links and the new airport, the MSC will be served by an ATM-based optical fiber backbone, supporting a speed of 2.5Gbps to 10Gbps with 5Gbps international gateways.
Sun Microsystems was one of the first companies to receive MSC status in 1997. Sun Microsystems country director Ramesh Nava said the company was setting up a technology competency center called the Java Competency Center within the MSC.
Microsoft (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd plans to contribute towards the MSC in terms of training and education, said Microsoft Asia-Pacific regional director John Lauer.
Microsoft is also collaborating with Hewlett-Packard Co and other local partners to put together prototypes of electronic government for use in Putrajaya, the new federal administrative capital. "Microsoft has lots of software to enable collaboration between government and private organizations," he added.
The Muslim Business Chamber of North America (MBCNA), which represents 300,000 members was keen on setting up a digital video disk (DVD) manufacturing plant within the MSC.
MBCNA president Mohammad Minhaj Khokhar, in a recent visit, said the group is raising US$15 million for the project and will be assisted by a technology company based in Seattle, Washington. It was also interested in introducing telephone line enhancement technology that could expand capacity of existing lines to up 16 times.
Diversified Malaysian IT-based group Lityan Holdings Bhd has signed an memorandum of understanding with the South Australian Health Commission and professional services firm Andersen Consulting Sdn Bhd to develop a tele-medicine application within the MSC. Tele-medicine is used to improve access to expert healthcare from remote areas using telecommunications and computing technology. It is an established practise in South Australia for various branches of medicine including radiology, psychiatry, cancer services and renal dialysis.
NCR Corp's local subsidiary has already applied for MSC status and is on two advisory panels, one on the multipurpose smartcard and the other on electronic government. Oracle Corp has applied to be part of the advisory panels for the electronic government, smart schools, telemedicine and multipurpose smartcard applications. Compaq Computer Corp intends to set up a software laboratory within the MSC to develop applications for the project.
Six agreements and two memorandums of understanding (MOU) for various IT-related joint-ventures between Malaysian and US partners for the MSC have been signed.
Among the 400 proposed projects were interactive television, electronic commerce, digital post-production, software games development, distance learning, electronic government, and information protection.
'Cyberlaws' to Protect IP
The 750 square kilometer MSC is being differentiated from other hi-tech hubs because the government has promised a package of innovative, commerce-enabling 'cyberlaws' that will protect intellectual property and ensure freedom of expression within the MSC.
The Digital Signature Bill allows the use of electronic signatures instead of handwritten ones in legal and business documents.
The Computer Crime Bill is expected to address the use of computers for unauthorized access to systems, manipulating, tampering or destroying data, and online credit card fraud.
The Multimedia Intellectual Property Bill will give multimedia developers full protection of their works through online registration and allow licensing and royalty collection.