From: By Lynn Lee, Correspondent
Surge in handset connectivity brings cheer, fear
JAKARTA: Mr Syarief Maulana, who works for a non-governmental organisation, is constantly in the loop - he uses his BlackBerry smartphone to check his email, news websites and his Facebook account multiple times each day.
'My subscription costs 150,000 rupiah (S$22.65) a month and it includes practically unlimited use of the Internet. It's a good deal considering my bill used to be 400,000 rupiah just a few years ago,' he said.
Mr Syarief, who is in his 40s, is among the millions of Indonesians who are getting connected to the Net via their handsets rather than personal computers.
The Indonesian Internet Service Provider Association said this year that there are about 40 million Internet users, up from just two million some 10 years ago, following the end of the dictatorship of president Suharto.
This puts the Internet penetration rate at 17 per cent, with the figure set to grow further as Indonesians enter the era of instant connectivity with enthusiasm.
At the same time, Indonesia's high mobile penetration rate is also set to increase. Around 65 per cent - or 156 million people - of the 240 million population already own mobile phones. Cheap handsets, many wireless-enabled, are widely available in major cities, while wealthier users flock to the BlackBerry or iPhone.
Like their peers in the rest of the world, Indonesians are active users of news, video, social networking and forum websites, in addition to blogs.
Most recent statistics show that more than 22 million people here use Facebook - putting Indonesians in third place behind British and American users.
Indonesia has the world's highest penetration rate for micro-blogging site Twitter - with at least one in five Internet users visiting Twitter.com in June, said market research firm ComScore.
Blogger Iman Brotoseno, who is involved in the annual bloggers' networking conference Pesta Blogger, told The Jakarta Globe daily this month that Indonesia has around 2.7 million bloggers now.
The blog publishing platform Wordpress said Bahasa Indonesia is the third most-used language by its users.
Earlier this year, Yahoo did a study that named Indonesia as the fastest-growing online market in South-east Asia, with online usage spiking some 48 per cent this year compared with that last year. In May, Yahoo bought home-grown social networking site Koprol, which allows mobile phone users to share photos, reviews and their locations with one another.
Indonesian telcos are cottoning on to this trend of growing Internet usage - buoyed by research by consulting firms like Frost & Sullivan, which predict that mobile data services could form some 40 per cent of their revenues going forward.
The telcos have had no problems hooking wealthier users, many of whom carry smartphones by BlackBerry, to benefit from its free messaging service. But other telcos believe the lower end of the market offers great growth potential.
Bakrie Telecom, for instance - whose Esia brand crossed the 10 million subscriber mark at the end of last year - has come out with a series of handsets where users can download music and use social networking sites. Prices are around 300,000 rupiah, while data connection rates can start from as little as 250 rupiah a minute.
It is part of the firm's aim to 'innovate for and give more value to the bottom third' of the market, Bakrie Telecom president director Anindya Bakrie told The Straits Times in an April interview.
But the rapid uptake of the Internet is worrying religious conservatives, who believe that traditional values will be under threat by the information available on the Net.
In recent months, gossip and scandalous videos have swirled and spread rapidly in the online world, especially through Twitter and Facebook users.
Last week, rumours of a Cabinet minister having an affair with his secretary were 'tweeted' by various users while a few months ago, sex videos of pop star Nazriel Irham were being uploaded to Facebook.
These had led Information and Communications Minister Tifatul Sembiring, who comes from an Islamic party, to recently ban some four million websites containing pornography. There are concerns he will attempt to regulate the Internet further by limiting access to other sites.
If so, Indonesia's social activists, who have fashioned themselves into gatekeepers for the free use of the Internet, are unlikely to stay quiet. At a seminar on new media held in Jakarta earlier this month, participants pointed to the Internet's role in furthering democracy and freedom of speech, while generating discussions about pertinent issues such as the anti- corruption effort.
Blogger Enda Nasution said social media was the 'fifth estate in Indonesia's democracy', referring to how social networks influence policymaking and public opinion.
Aid worker Syarief, who is from Jakarta but based in eastern Indonesia, said: 'The Internet's value is that it lets me keep tabs on what is happening on the news no matter where I am in the country. Being able to do this on the go is an additional bonus.'
Additional reporting by Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja
New media proponents say the Net has helped further freedom of speech and discussions on important issues such as corruption.
Religious conservatives worry traditional values will be compromised, as seen from the circulation of scandalous videos featuring celebrities.