MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER / ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Broadband internet speeds in Metro Manila and three other regions in Luzon will be an impressive 200 megabits per second (Mbps) by February 2022.
Such was the promise made by the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) last week when it pushed Senator Grace Poe to the status of its National Broadband Plan (NBP), a company that aims to provide “universal, fast, reliable, affordable broadband -Internet services for Filipinos in a digital economy. “
In October this year, Singapore led in broadband internet speeds at 188.11 Mbps, followed by Thailand at 173.44 and Hong Kong at 170.48, according to a report from global surveillance company Ookla Speedtest. The Philippines’ record averaged 45.52 Mbps, placing it 71st out of 181 countries. In 2017, the Philippines ranked 94th out of 133 countries.
The slow pace at which the country has climbed the global rankings is attributed to a number of reasons. In addition to the usual bureaucracy, the lack of adequate budget support is cited by some as a major problem as the critical importance of information and communication technology for economic development is not recognized despite the ubiquity of the internet, e.g. commerce and social media.
At the Senate hearing on the DICT budget last week, Poe inquired about the status of Phase 1 of the NBP and whether the agency could close it despite huge budget cuts by the Department of Budget and Management. She asked if the agency could deliver on its promise of faster internet in all government offices in four regions after Phase 1 was completed. Regions I, III, the National Capital Region and parts of Region II “will actually feel the government promised 200 mpbs speed” when Phase 1 is completed by February 2022, she stressed.
However, there are two other phases to the NBP, and the projects that need to be carried out for them will cost approximately 16 billion pesos (43 million S $). For 2022, when the NBP’s last two components are due to begin, “they’re only getting pesos 4.5 billion,” said Senator Ronald dela Rosa, who defended the ministry’s budget.
DICT Secretary Gregorio B. Honasan II complained that the government should better assess the value and importance of digital transformation initiatives today, as they play a key role in helping people not only cope with the pandemic, but also boost economic productivity. “We have observed that the entire ecosystem is limited in appreciation for ICT-powered connectivity, which enables us to manage effectively and proactively. The government has yet to fully understand that ICT is the future, especially during the pandemic, ”he said.
“Fast, reliable and affordable internet that reaches unserved and underserved areas” is the NBP’s goal, and this is particularly important today for a country facing the double setbacks of a health crisis and a severe economic downturn. In unserved and underserved areas, most of which are remote areas that private telecommunications companies hardly need to pay attention to due to the low income they can generate there, millions of school children need internet services to keep up with the 21st century education.
The World Bank has warned that the lack of internet connectivity in this era of distance learning was a major contributor to the dismal accomplishments of Filipino children.
Under the current telecom duopoly, almost half of the population still has no or very little access to the Internet, while the other half is forced to pay high prices for private telecommunications services. President Duterte warned during his State of the Union address in July 2020 that telecommunications companies would shut down if they did not improve their services in support of the government’s efforts to improve the country’s ICT environment. The president’s frustration reflected public opinion on the matter. The Duterte administration approved the entry of a third player, Dito Telecommunity, but the project start was repeatedly delayed by the pandemic.
The creation of the DICT in June 2016 revitalized the NBP, whose success would provide high-speed internet services, wider coverage and free WiFi for national and local government agencies and public schools. But the project calls for more financial support.
The Philippines urgently needs to speed up the broadband project, especially as the World Bank predicted last week that distance learning will continue. More than the global rankings on speed, improvements in not only the speed of the country’s internet but also in terms of cost, availability and reliability are imperative.
However, these will only materialize if the government commits to properly fund the NBP and complete it as soon as possible.
- The Philippine Daily Inquirer is a member of The Straits Times’ media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media outlets.