The emergence of Internet has definitely brought a lifestyle change to most Filipinos as they spend most of the day browsing through their social media accounts, chatting with their friends and relatives, watch online videos, among others, either through smartphones, laptops or desktops.
The Philippines has been branded as the 'Social Media Capital of the World' as Filipinos use social media to communicate with families and friends living overseas. It has become a way for them to communicate with their families and friends instead of using overseas call and text, which are the traditional ways of communication.
However, the speed and high cost of Internet services have been a major concern among the government, telco industry players and other stakeholders in the country.
Faster Internet speeds have long been one of the collective wish of the over 44 million Filipinos who regularly and actively go online.
The Philippines's average Internet speed in the last two years has improved from 2.5 megabits per second (Mbps) to 3.5 Mbps but is still way behind its neighbors in the Southeast Asian region in terms of growth.
Vietnam's average speed improved from 2.9 Mbps to 5 Mbps over the same period. Indonesia's speed also improved from 2.5 Mbps to 4.5 Mbps while Thailand's average speed jumped from 6.3 Mbps to 10.8 Mbps based on the State of the Internet report released earlier this year by content delivery network service provider Akamai.
Ookla, another broadband analyst, also ranked the country as having the second slowest internet speed out of 22 countries in Southeast Asia in May 2015.
Aside from slow speed, Filipinos continue to pay more for their internet access compared to other Asian neighbors with an average value of USD18.19 per Mbps compared to the average global cost of USD 5.21 per Mbps, according to Ookla.
Thus, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) was formed which is responsible for the planning, development and promotion of the country's information and communications technology (ICT) in pursuit of national development.
The law creating the DICT, Republic Act No. 10844 or "An Act Creating the Department of Information and Communications Technology", was signed in May 20, 2016. Several agencies from other executive departments, notably from the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), dealing with communications functions and responsibilities were either abolished or transferred to the newly created department. The DOTC was renamed "Department of Transportation."
Among the agencies that are attached to the DICT for purposes of policy and program coordination include the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), National Privacy Commission (NPC) and the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordination Center.
Unfortunately, the internet speed remains slow and expensive. However, there is new hope that under President Rodrigo Duterte's administration, a regime that has promised to bring about real change, Internet service in the country will finally acquire a new speed.
This as the country's notoriously slow yet expensive internet connection caught President Rodrigo Duterte's attention that in his first State of the Nation Address on July 25, 2016, he announced his plans to have better internet for Filipinos.
The President has directed the newly-created DICT to craft a National Broadband Plan (NBP) to address the country's internet problems.
"I also directed the newly-created Department of Information and Communications Technology to develop a National Broadband Plan to accelerate the deployment of fiber optic cables and wireless technologies to improve internet speed," Duterte has said.
He also said that he would put up hotspots where Wi-Fi can be accessed for free.
"Wi-Fi access shall be provided at no charge in selected public places," the President said.
The President also asked the two main telecommunication companies to shape up or else face new competition.
"You improve the service or I will open the Philippines. All can come in," he said.
Thus, the newly created DICT under Secretary Rodolfo Salalima, is looking at the possibility of recalling frequencies assigned to private companies so they can be used for broadband deployment and speed up Internet service as these frequencies have remained unutilized to this day.
The DICT is also pursuing for the development of a national broadband plan to accelerate the deployment of fiber optic cables and wireless technologies that will further improve Internet speed in pursuance to the directive of the President.
"Our priority is to serve people in the countryside that public telco service providers are unable to reach," DICT Secretary Rodolfo Salalima said in a recent media interview.
Salalima estimated that the cost of the national broadband plan at around PHP77 billion- PHP200 billion and could take three years for its implementation but could be fast-tracked for a year if there are existing government infrastructures.
The government is eyeing to use the fiber optic network of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) to provide faster and affordable Internet services in the country.
The option includes using 5,000 to 10,000 kilometers of fiber optic cables of the NGCP from north to south to facilitate the establishment of the national broadband plan.
The Department is in negotiations with telco providers to help the government build the broadband network. The infrastructure could be rented out and services of the telcos could be tapped as part of the network if it would be more cost-efficient to the government.
Salalima expects that its proposed national broadband plan will be submitted to President Duterte by January next year.
The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) is also set to release the results of its audit of existing frequencies held by telco companies in order to determine the efficiency, speed and coverage of Internet services in the country by next year.
"I want all these investigations to be presented during the telecom summit by February because I want to determine the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the time which they were given a chance to make use of the frequencies," according to Salalima.
Last July, the DICT chief directed the NTC to conduct an inventory of all existing spectrums to be categorized by availability and subjected to be reassigned if found to be underutilized. It aims to prevent 'warehousing' of spectrum by telco firms through keeping assigned frequencies from government, storing them without using except for speculative purposes contrary to the Constitution.
For its part, PLDT Inc. (PLDT) is calling for the harmonization of national policies and local government regulations to facilitate the development of a national broadband infrastructure.
PLDT proposed that a standard permit system be established to minimize bureaucratic red tape and strengthen stakeholder support for the rollout of network infrastructure to more areas in the country.
In a speech delivered at a recent summit hosted by the DICT for government units and ICT players, PLDT and Smart Communications Senior Vice President for Network Services Mario Tamayo related that there are no standard fees in applying for permits particularly at the level of barangays and municipalities, thus, telco firms face different sets of permit fees and processing fees.
Moreover, PLDT has to deal with widespread cases of cable theft and fiber breaks due to digging activities for national and local public works which account for about 80% of service interruptions for the telco provider.
Tamayo urged the Department of Public Works and Highways to allocate space for telecoms infrastructure in public highways to reduce right of way issues and expedite deployment of fiber facilities.
PLDT plans to increase the capacity of its data infrastructure by 10 times by 2020 amid continued growth of data traffic and digital services in the country. For this year, the telco firm has allocated PHP48 billion capital expenditure to fortify and expand its fixed and wireless networks, including the utilization of its recently acquired 700 MHz spectrum frequency from the telco assets of San Miguel Corporation.
Likewise, Globe Telecom is calling for the government to simplify the acquisition process for cell sites and rationalize permitting process including tower fees.
Globe Chief Information and Technology Officer Gil Genio said that the firm has a cell site backlog of around 3,000 sites due to difficulties in securing permits from various local government units, homeowners associations, and other government agencies, causing considerable delay in the construction of such facilities.
According to Genio, at least 25 permits are needed to put up one cell sites and the permitting process takes at least eight months to complete barring major concerns from various agencies. He stressed that the construction of additional sites is critical in improving internet services in the country, pointing out that this will provide more bandwidth for local internet users.
Globe also supports an update on the country's ICT strategy and plan including the development of a national broadband plan to improve delivery of government services; the promotion of process efficiencies for public service; and provision of Wi-Fi services in public areas and internet connectivity in public schools.
The company recently announced an additional capital spend of USD 300 million for the year in an effort to continuously improve mobile data services. More than half of the additional capital expenditures or USD160 million will be devoted to deploying cell sites using the 700 megahertz spectrum as well as additional spectrum in the 2600 MHz band.
Globe has allotted around USD400- USD500 million in investments for mobile for this year. It is also considering rolling out additional 700 sites for LTE 700 MHz in major cities in the country including Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, and Metro Davao. So far, the company has around 260 LTE 700 MHz sites. The company also plans to deploy close to 2,700 sites for LTE 2600 band. Additional core and transport upgrades will also be undertaken by the company.
Meanwhile, PLDT and Globe has agreed to reduce the interconnection rate for voice calls between the telco firms to PHP 2.50 per minute starting January 2017. At present, mobile to mobile and landline to mobile voice calls cost PHP4.00 per minute while mobile to landline voice calls cost PHP3.00 per minute.
NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba said the move to lower interconnection rates is in line with efforts to reduce communications costs, maintain and foster fair competition in the telecommunications industry as well as to make mobile voice service more affordable to the public.
The NTC is set to offer the portfolio of spectrum as one bundle in an auction targeted by mid-2017, as the regulator moves to attract a third player to the telecommunications industry. Existing players will not be allowed to participate in the auction.
The frequencies in NTC's inventory include the 3G Connectivity Unlimited Resources Enterprise (CURE) surrendered by PLDT, Inc. after taking over Digital Telecommunications Philippines in 2011, as well as the frequencies returned by PLDT and Globe Telecom, Inc., after their recent joint acquisition of San Miguel Corp.'s (SMC) telco assets -- 20 Megahertz (MHz) in the 700 MHz, and other radio frequencies 2,500 MHz, 3,500 MHz bands.
Cordoba stated that there is strong demand for the unassigned frequencies with more participants interested to become the third player in the telco industry.
President Duterte vowed to open up the telecom sector to foreign players in order to boost the economic growth of the country.
"In the area of telecommunications, we are now finalizing our plans to open up the information and communications technology industry to new players in order to promote competitiveness and improve quality of service," he said.
The President stated that his administration is looking at legal and regulatory frameworks that would help hasten the entry of new competitors in the telco industry.
PLDT and Globe welcomed the development and vowed that they will improve their services to make them more affordable.
So far, the Duterte administration has been exerting efforts to achieve a Philippines with high speed Internet that is cheaper, Wi-Fi hotspots all over the country and cheaper interconnection calls.
Source: Philippines News Agency