If the Philippines is lagging behind our Asian neighbors when it comes to broadband speed connection, we only have the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to blame.
Far from its mandate of promoting consumer welfare, the telecommunications agency has, in fact, intentionally deceived Filipinos by purposely setting broadband standards much, much lower than that set by the NTC-recognized international standards body.
In its Memorandum Circular No. 07-08-2015 issued on Aug. 13, 2015, the NTC said: “Broadband, as defined by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), refers to a data connection speed of at least 256 kbps [kilobits – or thousand of bits – per second].”
Curious as to why the NTC would peg the internet speed in 2015 to that of a 1990s dial-up modem (a.k.a vintage, by today’s standards), we did a quick fact check and here’s what we gathered.
The ITU referred to by the NTC in its circular is an agency of the United Nations (UN) for information and communication technologies (ICTs). It is an international public-private partnership (PPP) organization based in Geneva, Switzerland; with some 193 countries and almost 800 private ICT sector entities (e.g. manufacturers, and telecoms carriers to R&D companies and academic institutions) among its members. It also allocates global radio spectrum and satellite orbits and develops technical standards on ICTs.
More than 12 years before the NTC came out with its circular, the ITU already defined what “broadband” is.
The FAQ section in the ITU website states: “What is broadband? Many people associate broadband with a particular speed of transmission or a certain set of services, such as digital subscriber loop (DSL) or wireless local area networks (wLANs). However, since broadband technologies are always changing, the definition of broadband also continues to evolve.”
“Today, the term broadband typically describes recent Internet connections that range from 5 times to 2000 times faster than earlier Internet dial-up technologies…Broadband combines connection capacity (bandwidth) and speed. Recommendation I.113 of the ITU Standardization Sector defines broadband as a transmission capacity that is faster than primary rate Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) at 1.5 or 2.0 Megabits per second (Mbits).” (See: https://www.itu.int/osg/spu/publications/birthofbroadband/faq.html)
In another webpage of the ITU website, the organization defined broadband in this manner: “The term broadband is commonly used to describe recent Internet connections that are significantly faster than earlier dial-up technologies…For instance, what was termed as a ‘fast’ Internet connection two years ago is now designated as ‘narrowband’. While the term broadband is used to describe many different Internet connection speeds, Recommendation I.113 of the ITU Standardization Sector (ITU-T) defines broadband as a transmission capacity that is faster than primary rate ISDN, at 1.5 or 2.0 Mbit/s.” (See: http://www.itu.int/osg/spu/ip/chapter_seven.html)
The term “recommendation” however, as used in the ITU website, should not be taken literally. It is not a mere suggestion. Rather, under ITU rules, “recommendations are standards that define how telecommunication networks operate and interwork.” In other words, a recommendation IS the standard. And in the case of broadband, contrary to NTC’s definition, the current standard is that the transmission rate should not be slower than 1.5 Mbps [or millions of bits per second].
We’re not telecoms engineers but from our layman’s point of view, the ITU’s broadband speed of 1.5 Megabits per second is definitely faster than NTC’s broadband definition of 256 kilobits per second (kbps).
The exceedingly low bar set by the NTC for broadband explains why the country’s Internet speed is the second slowest in Asia, next only to Afghanistan.
With the standard pegged at a turtle-paced 256 kbps, the country’s Internet service providers (ISPs) were practically given free rein by the NTC to set their own rules (and prices) as would allow them to generate maximum profit – all at the expense of consumers. As a result, there is also no pressure or incentive for ISPs to build the infrastructure to raise broadband speeds at par with our Asian neighbors.
Compare NTC’s pathetic response to that of its American counterpart, the United States’ Federal Telecommunications Commission (FTC).
For the second time in five years, the FTC in 2015 raised the broadband speed benchmark. In its 2015 Broadband Progress Report, the FTC said: “Congress directed us to evaluate annually whether advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans. For a service to be considered advanced, it must enable Americans ‘to originate and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video telecommunications’. Trends in deployment and adoption…and the speeds required to use high-quality video, data, voice, and other broadband applications all point at a new benchmark. With these factors in mind, we find that, having ‘advanced telecommunications capability’ requires access to actual download speeds of at least 25 Mbps and actual upload speeds of at least 3 Mbps.”
So why did the NTC lie about international broadband standards? In two words, regulatory capture. NTC is a “captured agency.” Although created to act in the public interest, the NTC is obviously working for the interests of the big players in the telecoms industry – the very same entities it is supposed to be regulating.
Like other captured government agencies, the NTC has become anti-consumer and anti-Filipino. The telecoms agency should be abolished, if not renamed “Nightmare To Consumers.”