Right now, there are 44,478,808 Filipinos who have access to the Internet – albeit, not exactly trouble-free given the dismal download speeds and the scant WiFi provision. Nevertheless, they represent 43.5% of the country’s 102,250,133 people, which at first glance looks impressive. It’s a lot of netizens in one place.
But the figures also show that a bigger proportion of the country is Internet absent – a whopping 56.5% of the population in fact. That means there are 57,771,325 non-netizen Filipinos at large. And that’s a lot more in one place. Let’s put it in perspective – it’s bigger than the combined populations of the whole of South Africa and the city of Chicago.
What they represent though, is a massive target market, but one which presently cannot be served. The Philippines is out of online capacity and the fact is it can’t adequately serve its present, ‘sometimes-networked’ clients.
But on a more positive note, what the non-netizens also represent is a potential second golden age of Internet growth in the Philippines.
The first golden age was from the dawn of the millennium to 2010. It was a decade of mass Web migration – from 1,544,814 pioneering users in 2000 (2% of that year’s population of 77,932,247), to 23,259,726 in 2010 (25% of the then population of 93,038,902).
Since that time, Internet penetration has trailed off: in the five years from 2012, when there were 34,791,973 users across the archipelago to today, it has risen by just 6.1%.
So what’s their reason for staying offline? It’s unlikely that they represent some passive Luddite reformation, given the demographics: around one third of the population falls within the mid-20s to mid-30s age group. This is the most tech-savvy constituency, and the one that is normally keen to be active in the digital world. Admittedly this is rough maths, but as an indication, 30% of the country’s non-netizen population represents 17,331,379 key-target individuals from this group alone.
Doubtless the frustrations experienced by their peers won’t have helped, but the most likely reason why they are staying away is the high cost of becoming a netizen. Internet in the Philippines, despite the system’s sluggishness, is expensive, with monthly costs averaging around US$18.19 per Mbps, compared to a global average of US$5.21. Subscription costs are also high – US$31.55.
Unemployment and underemployment is also high within this group (and the rest of the non-netizen population for that matter) and there will also be a sizeable proportion also that is on the minimum daily wage of between US$10.23 (non-agricultural) and US$9.45 (agricultural). That right there puts the Net out of their reach.
These statistics don’t just show up the scale of the Philippines’ connectivity woes, they provide a barometric reading of the state of the real economy where the majority of the country lives. If a second golden age is to happen, there’s going to have to be a golden age of higher disposable incomes first.