Can the working class live without Astro, Internet?

-A +A

KUALA LUMPUR: Have Internet connection plans, mobile data packages and Astro become as indispensable as mobile phones, computers and cars?

The Malaysian Insider spoke to several families in the Klang Valley and Penang on whether these services are things that even low-income families cannot do without.

What emerges is a picture of how these “luxuries” compensate for the inability of low wage earners to provide other things such as recreation or childcare for their children.

Ghafar Mohamad, who lives in Klang, Selangor, believes that any family with secondary school students like his own cannot do without an Internet plan.

“Primary schoolchildren nowadays have homework which requires them to go on the Internet,” said the 52-year-old business consultant with four children. Three are between the ages of 11 and 16.

Ghafar himself needs to go online for work, so the family spends RM68 a month on a basic Internet plan. Since he and his wife bring in about RM 6,500 a month, he is willing to ensure their children do not have to rely on cybercafes.

“With cybercafes, you’re not sure what they are doing there. At least with home Internet, you can monitor what they’re surfing.”

His sentiment was shared by all but one of the 13 families interviewed. The only household that did not need the web was Tee Seng Yean’s. The 78-year-old has no children or grandchildren living with him.

Even fathers who cannot afford a home Internet connection, like as Ojaran Fakharurrazi Omar, 37, from Penang, are willing to shell out money for their children to use a cybercafe, despite the risks.

“I have given my son money to use the cybercafe for Internet access to get his schoolwork done,” said Ojaran, of his nine-year-old.

Datuk Paul Selvaraj of consumer group Fomca said as the Internet has become a primary method of communication for school and work, it could be considered a necessity.

“But there are still issues of how much [bandwidth] is a necessity and what people use it for. The government should consider regulating the industry so that there is a basic package that can be offered to low-income families,” he said.

When it came to Astro, the number of households who thought it was a necessity was about the same as those who felt an Internet connection was necessary.

Those with Astro said that in this day and age, television viewing is almost impossible without it.

Ghafar had an interesting take on why his family needs Astro.

“You save on other forms of entertainment. You don’t need to spend on movies anymore and it helps keeps your children at home instead of having them wandering around so they can get kidnapped.” — Please see The Malaysian Insider for the full report.

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on September 5, 2014.