SINCE commercial internet connectivity spread into the domain of the developing world in the late 1990s, the Philippines has been a consistent laggard among the 15 Asia Pacific countries monitored by Akamai Technologies Inc. Akamai, an American content delivery network and cloud services firm, observed the traffic of an estimated 1 billion web users a day in the third quarter of 2016.
The latest available data (Q3 2016) from the company showed 76 of the 144 qualifying countries saw quarterly increases in average peak connection speeds, but the Philippines was among the 66 countries that registered declines, albeit at 0.1 percent, together with Senegal, Saudi Arabia and Ukraine.
“In the third quarter, for the first time, all 15 of the surveyed Asia-Pacific countries/regions had average connection speeds above the 4 Mbps broadband threshold. Seven of these exceeded the 10 Mbps threshold—the same as in the second quarter. India and the Philippines once again had the lowest average connection speeds among surveyed countries/regions in Asia Pacific, at 4.1 Mbps and 4.2 Mbps, respectively,” according to Akamai’s State of the Internet Q3 2016 report.
But if we are to believe the recently created Department of Information Communications and Technology (DICT), change is coming, especially in the aftermath of the two-day Philippine Telecoms Summit 2017 held from March 9 to 10.
Even Akamai thinks so, too, banking on last year’s pronouncements by the DICT: “Also, the new administration of the Philippines—a nation with one of the lowest broadband speeds and adoption rates in the region—looks to be prioritizing faster connectivity throughout the country, including the announcement of a new Department of Information and Communication Technology responsible for planning the deployment of fiber and wireless technologies nationwide.”
Because the so-called industry duopoly of PLDT Inc. and Globe Telecom Inc. are the dominant players here, it is easy to heap all the blame on them for the sorry state of internet connectivity in this country. But as ICT Secretary Rodolfo Salalima made it clear, the summit was not organized as a blaming-game to find a convenient scapegoat. That approach was supposedly a handshake deal among the DICT, the telcos, the consumer groups, the National Telecommunications Commission and the Philippine Chamber of Telecommunication Operators to get the whole spectrum of stakeholders on board. Rather, the intent was to find solutions to the problems dogging the industry.
Of course, a lot is at stake, based on the latest numbers of Internet Live Stats. Some 44.47 million more Filipinos were connected to the internet, or more than 43.5 percent of the estimated 102.25-million population, as of July 2016.
It remains to be seen, but it seems to be the right approach. The DICT has done two things, supposedly only the first steps to finding solutions to the internet speed and pricing problems. The department drafted a bill to be filed in Congress for sponsorship, basically seeking to mandate private villages and subdivisions nationwide to open their gates so the telcos can build more cell phone towers that tap into the radio frequencies assigned to them by the government. Having more cell sites allow telcos to fill the gaps in cellular networks that would otherwise make for patchy connectivity.
The DICT also drafted an executive order (EO) for the Office of the President to review and approve. The draft EO cuts the red tape at the local government level to pieces by ordering city and municipal halls to approve a permit for constructing a cell site within seven days, or else the request is considered a done deal beyond that time frame despite the lack of action. As NTC Chairman Gamaliel Cordova pointed out during the summit, 25 to 30 permits must be issued at the LGU level, a process that takes roughly eight months, before a telco can start to build single cell site.
To break the duopoly, the DICT has called for local and foreign investors to take a look at the possibilities in the country. He stressed that a third industry player is a must to address the problems of internet speed, pricing and coverage.
And to make sure telcos put to good use those precious non-financial assets vital to the telecom industry, the DICT vowed to confiscate the unused radio frequencies assigned by the NTC to holders of telecommunications franchises.
Yes, change is coming. But until it has arrived, the Filipino internet consumer can only hope for better connectivity while he watches the loading prompt on the device screen go round and round.