Lack of investment and a duopoly are largely responsible for the dire state of telecommunications in the Philippines, the most expensive and most inefficient in the entire Asia region – one exception: mountainous, war-ravaged Afghanistan with less than one third of the Philippines population, 21% of its nominal GDP and four deserts is slower. But unwieldy government bureaucracy can also take its share of the blame – no fewer than eight different government bodies, each with its own retinue of advisory panels, consultants and procurement infrastructures and agencies, have been divvying-up responsibility for the sector for the past 12 and a half years.
The not-so-magnificent eight, based on the results of their combined efforts, are: the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) – this department alone has a host of operating units charged with various telecom functions and responsibilities; the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), the Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO); the National Computer Center (NCC); the National Computer Institute (NCI); the Telecommunications Office (TELOF); the National Telecommunications Training Institute (NTTI), and the Philippine Postal Corporation (PhilPost).
In turn, the ingredients of this alphabet soup, DOTC, NTC, ICTO, NCC, NCI, TELOF, NTTI and PhilPost, came from the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT) – a temporary umbrella put up by former president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, on 12 January 2004. This organisation managed to house a commission (NTC) within a commission (CITC), illustrating that bureaucracy within the Philippine telecom sector knows absolutely no bounds. The CITC’s forerunner was the Information Technology and Electronic Commerce Council (ITECC) – another bureaucratic leviathan with tentacles right across the political landscape – which had pledged to lead the country’s ICT industry, enhance IT infrastructure across the nation and turn the Philippines into an e-services hub that would give the entire Asia region a run for its money.
Among the ITECC’s other laudable aims were to identify priority areas for network development; develop project study on bandwidth requirements; develop incentive programmes for private-sector, network-capacity build-up for non-commercially viable areas, and review and resolve inter-connection problems. And these will be among the very issues which will have to be addressed by the country’s latest telecom incarnation, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) – created by Benigno Aquino on 20 May 2016, just over a month before he steps down as president.
And DICT’s pledge, according to Aquino’s spokesman, is to “ensure universal access to quality, affordable, reliable and secure ICT services” along with ensuring “the provision of strategic, reliable, cost-efficient and citizen-centric information, and communications-technology infrastructure systems and resources as instruments of good governance and global competitiveness”. DOCT isn’t just passing its powers and functions to DICT then, its handing over its PR packaging as well.
President Elect Rodrigo Duterte, who is determined to fix the wretched state of telecommunications in the Philippines, has yet to decide who will be running this department. Given this sector’s propensity for creating a bureaucratic morass, the first thing on the agenda should be to dismantle and then demolish the red-tape machine.