No surprises; but the Philippines is continuing to trail much of the developed and developing world with the paucity of its telecommunications provisions. According to a just-released survey – The State of LTE November 2017, conducted by wireless-mapping specialist, OpenSignal – the Philippines is wireless-less compared to much of the planet.
So when is this going to end? The Philippines is being left in the electronic Stone Age – and that’s affecting everything from investment to business generally; from education to tourism; from simple telephonic communication to home entertainment. Fast and reliable Internet access isn’t a luxury anymore; it’s now a necessity of life.
We’re breaking with tradition for this weekend’s Your Forum; we’re not going to ask a question – we’re gong to throw this wide open. Let us know your views on this deplorable state of affairs. Let’s know how you’d like it fixed. Here’s a little background to get you in the mood.
In September, Rodolfo Salalima, resigned his post as secretary of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) – apparently, for personal and work-related reasons. We won’t go into any of that, other than to say it was a very odd appointment in the first place, given that he was a former chief legal council and senior adviser of Globe Telecom which along with PLDT holds the duopoly on telecommunications in the Philippines. Somewhere down the road, conflict of interest was always going to be an issue.
The point is, though, Salalima had held that position for 15 months – but, frankly, it’s hard to know what he was doing for all that time. The DICT is responsible for planning, developing and promoting the country’s ICT to spur national development. But for those 15 months there was no tangible improvement as far as the vast majority of the public is concerned.
Connectivity didn’t get anymore reliable; costs – the highest in Asia – certainly didn’t come down. In 2016, monthly Internet access costs in the Philippines averaged around US$18.19 per megabyte per second, compared to a global average of US$5.21.
Last July, House of Representatives member, Luis Campos Jr., filed a Bill that would compel telecom-service providers to improve services, “under pain of heavy fines”. He claims that the initiative is in line with the United Nations Human Rights Council view that Internet access is a right of all people. That was four months ago; we’ve not heard anymore about it since.
So rhetoric, promises, guarantees, blueprints and master plans aside – we believe the Filipino populace has had quite enough of all that – precisely when is this country going to get wireless networks that are usable, speedy and affordable?
Let’s clear up the technical terms first. LTE stands for long term evolution, a global standard for high-speed wireless communications via mobile devices and data terminals. It’s commonly marketed as 4G LTE. 4G is an abbreviation for the fourth-generation of broadband cellular technology.
For The State of LTE November 2017, OpenSignal tested 77 countries world wide; among these were six of the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). Here’s how the Philippines performed within that peer group.
For LTE availability the Philippines came last: Here are the global rankings for the Asean countries: Singapore, 9th; Thailand, 30th; Indonesia, 39th; Malaysia, 40th; Cambodia 51st; Philippines, 69th.
For 4G speed, the Philippines again trailed the six Asean states surveyed. Singapore, 1st; Malaysia, 60th; Cambodia 68th; Thailand, 72nd; Indonesia, 73rd; Philippines, 74th.
Those results are beyond embarrassing; they’re scandalous. We know that this situation is yet another legacy problem which Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte inherited; we also know it’s a situation he’s extremely frustrated about.
Certainly, Duterte has a tremendous amount on his plate with the ongoing campaign to eradicate illegal drugs from society; to defeat Islamic terrorism in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao; to negotiate a peace settlement with communist rebels; to get reform measures passed by Congress which will propel his socio-economic agenda and reduce that other huge legacy problem, poverty.
And all that and more while having to fend off attacks and allegations from determined political opponents – remnants of the last administration who did precious little to address any of these issues meaningfully. But, despite all that, ICT has to be prioritised more.
In the 2016 National Budget, the DICT was allocated PHP44.29 billion. How much new ICT infrastructure did that buy and where is it? What exactly did the people get for that?
Smart cities – as Clark Green City in Pampanga is aspiring to be – need to set their sights on Narrowband (5G), now being rolled out across parts of eight European countries. In fact, without it those cities can’t be smart. Fast, reliable – in other words, stable – Internet connection makes it possible for surgeons in one country to perform operations in another by means of an online robot. All this, of course, is light years away from where the Philippines is today
Consumers and businesses, tourists and students, however, aren’t expecting anything like that. All they require is an efficient, value-for-money, wireless network connection that will get them online when they want and where they want. In the second half of the second decade of the third millennium is that too much to ask?
Well apparently it is – 4G is practically unavailable outside Manila. The rest of the country functions – if that’s the right word – on 3G. And even that’s not guaranteed – even when it is! We’ve heard of packages, for example, with promised unlimited connection – unlimited that is until an undisclosed 800-megabyte ceiling is reached when access is automatically downgraded to 2G.
The point is, as long as the Globe/PLDT duopoly continues, and serious telecom competition is kept out of the market, the Netizens of the Philippines have little hope of getting online quickly and cheaply.