Today, MEASAT gave us the opportunity to get first-hand experience with their Digital Village 365 initiative, which is a project in collaboration with Parcel365 to not just connect rural communities to the internet, but to also allow them to participate in the e-commerce economy with CONNECTme NOW. We visited Kampung Orang Asli (KOA) Pos Sinderut in Pahang, one of the first locations where the programme is being piloted.
First off, to enable the villagers to order things off the internet, they would need an internet connection. Of course, an area that’s deep in the jungle won’t have telco coverage — that’s where MEASAT comes in. Using a satellite dish installed in the villages, the company provides the locals with an internet connection through MEASAT’s satellite.
Unlike its discontinued home-based broadband service, CONNECTme NOW is a sort of hotspot Wi-Fi service that covers most of the village. The satellite dish is connected to several access points in the village to widen the service’s coverage and can provide up to 60Mpbs speeds depending on your distance from an access point and how many users are active at once. With our experience, we were able to get between 6Mbps to 43 Mbps, which is good enough to stream YouTube, TikTok, browse the web, and even make video calls.
Obviously, CONNECTme NOW is not a free public service, so the villagers need to purchase prepaid vouchers in order to have access to it. The village has a local Digital Village 365 shop that sells these vouchers as well as goods and e-commerce services, but we’ll get to that part in a bit.
The prepaid vouchers are sold at a price of RM10 for 1GB of Wi-Fi with 30 days of validity; customers will receive a code to input when they purchase the vouchers. There will also be 2GB, 3GB, 5GB, and 15GB vouchers, but MEASAT has yet to reveal the pricing for these.
For the e-commerce part of Digital Village 365, the local shop has a computer that the villagers can use to purchase goods from the Shopla365 catalogue, Parcel365’s e-commerce site — the payment method used is cash, with the shop as an agent. Not only that, but the site is selling produce from the KOA including petai, durian, and even live chicken directly to consumers, cutting out any middle men and effectively allowing the Orang Asli to become e-commerce sellers.
To bring in the goods ordered by the villagers as well as shipping out the local produce sold, Parcel365 will send in a 4×4 truck to each participating village every two weeks, with the Digital Village 365 shop acting as a pickup and drop-off point. While the catalogue is limited for now, MEASAT and Parcel365 plan on allowing villagers to order items from popular e-commerce sites such as Shopee and Lazada in the future.
Moreover, rather than just having a shop act as a pickup and drop-off point, the companies plan on introducing lockers for more convenience, aiming for a launch in Q1 of 2024. Parcel365 is also working on an e-wallet system on its app to allow locals to make transactions without relying on TACs, as these areas lack the coverage to get SMS codes. That being said, there is still no estimate on when the e-wallet might be ready for a rollout.
Another part of the programme is to provide the homes of the villagers with more affordable and accessible electricity, a basic necessity that many KOA lack. The local shop offers portable batteries that power up home appliances such as TVs and fans, coming in 600W and 1000W variants and can last up to three days. These power supplies are rented out from RM30 per month and can be recharged at the shop at a rate of between RM5 to RM10 per cycle.
MEASAT has grand ambitions for CONNECTme NOW, with plans to expand the initiative to include services such telemedicine, early-warning emergency systems, and even banking facilities such as ATMs. The pilot for Digital Village 365 is currently underway in Pos Sinderut, Titom, Sop, Lenjang, and Bakul, with plans for expansion in villages in Tagar and Talut.
The official launch of the programme will be on 15 July, but it’s still in the air as to what new services will be introduced at that time. In the long run, MEASAT wants to implement it in rural communities across both West and East Malaysia in stages.
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