Even if you have been living outside of Indonesia, you may have heard about the massive blackout that happened to almost half of the archipelago’s most populated island Java on Sunday.
Let me describe to you how the situation was like.
I was preparing to leave home during lunchtime when I noticed the lamps in my house flickering; seconds later electricity completely died down in my neighbourhood. Certainly, this was not the first time such a thing happened, so I departed with the thought that everything would be back to normal in, let’s just say, an hour.
But an hour later, in the lobbies of shopping malls, I stumbled upon long queue lines of what I later learned to be stranded passengers. They were unable to book rides from popular ride-hailing apps such as gojek or Grab; other public transportations such as MRT or trains were also halted due to the blackout.
For at least two hours, I struggled to make phone calls, as I was not able to get any reception at all. It almost felt like a scene from an apocalypse film, especially since the situation only returned to normal around 8PM (before crashing again around 3AM).
The next day, I received apology emails from startups to their customers for their inability to provide services during the blackout –and that was the moment I began to feel concerned about the Indonesian tech industry.
If you have been working in the Indonesian startup ecosystem, then you may have heard of the country’s Digital Energy of Asia ambition being repeated on various events, particularly those where government officials are presenting.
After what happened on Sunday, the rhetoric of being a Digital Energy of Asia feels more like a daydream to me.
Despite being a tricky market to get into, Indonesia has a lot of great potentials in the digital industry. Foreign investments in tech companies are flooding in; the country has also begun to see its startups getting listed on the stock exchange.
There is definitely a promise of greatness, but these potentials can only be realised through proper support by policy-makers. In this case, we are not even talking about support in the form of grants, accelerator programmes, or even regulations.
We are talking about the most basic support of them all: Electricity.
Up until today, there has not been any clear information on the exact cause of the massive blackout. Accidents aside, the fact that an incident of this scale is allowed to happen, indicated there is still a problem in how the government –particularly the state’s electricity company– manages the sector.
“But this is just one incident!” some of you might say. “Don’t be overdramatic. Surely it is not going to threaten a whole industry?”
Well, guess what? For Java, this might have been a single incident. But for Indonesians living outside of the island, this type of massive blackout is actually more common than is acceptable.
When the blackout hits Java, some netizens actually commented, “Now you know how it feels to live in Papua.”
We may have come up with programmes to support startups across Indonesia such as Gerakan 1000 Startup, but it will be meaningless if the basics are not even fulfilled.
I am reminded of that time when a friend messaged me with a burning question: Can you give me a recommendation of a promising startup from Eastern Indonesia? Something big, something that will be the next unicorn?
It took me a moment of browsing around the internet to be able to name a single startup based in the region. There may have been various reasons why this happened. But I have this suspicion that the lack of proper infrastructure might be the reason why we are still waiting from something big to come from the East.