The National Broadband Plan can be funded by developmental loans to sustain long-term economic recovery, independent think tank Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute said Wednesday.
Stratbase ADRi president Prof. Dindo Manhit said in a statement the implementation of the National Broadband Plan should be prioritized as a critical infrastructure project in the government loan portfolio that will generate long-term benefits to public and private ecosystems.
“This is critical in meeting the increasing demand for reliable and fast broadband services needed by all sectors to sustain operations,” he said.
“This brings to front a strategic challenge that if not addressed with urgency, will negatively affect the country’s economic recovery and competitiveness in a new digital driven economy,” Manhit said.
According to the IMD World Digital Competitiveness Ranking 2020, ASEAN governments are upgrading telecommunications infrastructure, with Malaysia spending $233 million for increasing coverage and broadband speed. Thailand is investing $343 million to connect thousands of villages while Vietnam is spending $820 million for a 23,000-kilometer submarine cable system.
“Given the region’s aggressive investments to upgrade wired and wireless networks, the Philippine government should take the cue from its ASEAN neighbors who are already investing aggressively to boost broadband services to world class levels,” Manhit said.
The Department of Information and Communications Technology’s proposed P18-billion budget to implement the National Broadband Plan was only allocated less than P1.5 billion in the 2021 national budget.
Manhit said this decision would further push back the decades-long infrastructure backlog seen by experts as a major factor affecting broadband speeds.
The government is imposing a 15-day timeline for issuance of tower permits to address the 50,000-backlog seen as a major cause of congestion slowing down internet services.
The two dominant telecommunications players are ramping-up infrastructure spending to enhance and expand services.
Globe Telecom president and chief executive Ernest Cu said that while the new sites would need time to be built and fired up, “the recent unimpeded permitting process has proven to be the much-needed catalyst for the telco industry. Improving the country’s state of connectivity and internet speed is a continuing effort that requires both public and private sector support,”
Globe announced increasing investments by 250 percent in 2021 for new cell towers and 5G network expansion that will boost internet speeds. The company said an estimated P70 billion would be spent this year as part of modernization efforts in Luzon and upgrading of 4G to high-speed LTE signal in Visayas and Mindanao.
Smart Communications also announced P88 billion to P92 billion in capital expenditure to expand services to the unserved and underserved areas in the country.
The telcos reported a 500-percent increase in data usage when lockdowns started last year because of the massive shift to online services to adapt to travel restrictions and working from home.
“Cloud technologies are now essential tools that must be quickly integrated to all for surviving this deep economic crisis. The implementation of the NBP should be prioritized as a critical infrastructure project in the government loan portfolio that will generate long term benefits to public and private ecosystems. If left undone, our efforts to rebuild economic momentum will not happen if the country’s digital infrastructure is not ready to deliver the broadband speeds required to support a cloud-based ecosystem,” Manhit said.