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Saturday, April 13, 2024

No lease for broadband service installations

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“We have been advocating reforms that would update the country’s policies more compatible and adaptable to fast evolving technological innovations of a global digital economy”

When the world had to enforce quarantine measures to fight the COVID 19 pandemic, the global shift towards digital technologies for communications and daily transactions created a sudden demand for broadband internet access which served as an indispensable and lifesaving tool for surviving the crisis.

Filipinos quickly adopted to digital modes which then exposed various gaps in the country’s readiness in terms of digital infrastructure, digital skills, and the mostly paper-based slow government bureaucracy, among others.

The pandemic crisis influenced the adoption of a new mindset in the government leadership that a systemic and inclusive digital transformation of the country had to be pursued with urgency, and the cooperation of all of society, to sustain long term economic recovery.

Since the Philippines was first connected to the internet 30 years ago in the wee hours of the morning of March 29, 1994, at the PLDT network center at the Ramon Cojuangco Building, internet speeds have gone a long way from 9600 bps (bits per second) dialup speed to the fast broadband service plans of 100 Mbps (Megabits per second) and are above now available to subscribers.

Based on a 2024 Ookla report, it measured the Philippine’s median fixed internet connection speed at 92.19 Mbps while median mobile internet connection speed via cellular networks are at 27.75 Mbps.

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According to data from the Department of Information and Communications Technology, household access to the internet is now at 76.9 percent in 2022 which is a huge leap from only 17 percent in 2019.

So, what about the 23.1 percent which translates to roughly over 30 million of the population that do not have access to the internet?

Well, that’s a good estimate of our population that’s at the disadvantaged side of the digital divide.

The unprecedented and fast pivot to online digital solutions is creating a digital divide that deprives the have-nots of society of the empowering benefits of digital technologies.

This has raised loud calls to recognize access to broadband internet services as a human right that should be available to all as a standard utility like water and electricity.

According to The World Bank Group’s “Digital Progress and Trends Report 2023,” though there have been significant gains in digital adoption, gaps in internet speed, data traffic, and accessibility in low- and middle-income countries are impeding individuals and enterprises from harnessing the opportunities of digital technologies.

The report estimates only one in four people are able to access the internet in low income countries.

In a published statement, Axel van Trotsenburg, Senior Managing Director at the World Bank said, “Without access to the internet and the skills to use digital technologies effectively, you are essentially locked out of the modern world.

The critical services that support development—like hospitals, schools, energy infrastructure, and agriculture—all run on connectivity and data.

The infrastructure and platforms that underpin these connections must be available, affordable, and safe for developing countries to flourish.”

As convenor of CitizenWatch Philippines, we have been advocating reforms that would update the country’s policies more compatible and adaptable to fast evolving technological innovations of a global digital economy.

Specifically relevant to addressing digital infrastructure gaps is our call to legislators to prioritize the amendment of nearly the half century old National Building Code of the Philippines to require last mile installations of telecommunications and broadband networks as a standard utility integrated into the design of all real estate developments, whether government or private owned, as water and power facilities are provided adequate space, and lease free.

Currently pending in Congress is House Bill 8534 authored by Rep. Joey Salceda which seeks to “provide for all buildings and structure and property developments, a framework of minimum standards and requirements to regulate and control their location, site, design, quality of materials, construction, use, occupancy, maintenance, and ensure connectivity prior to occupancy.”

Instead of being opportunistic with the demand for universal internet access and charging superfluous lease payments that further increases the cost of broadband services for everyone, all property developers and owners should be a positive contributor to our country’s digital inclusivity by freely facilitating the provision of the best broadband services for of all their occupants.

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