"So slow, so expensive."
Do we have a case of a bad duopoly or a poor state policy and regulation?
One always reads about the Philippines suffering from slow and unreliable internet and spotty mobile phone service, let alone the high bills that go with such poor service. It has become public knowledge that the Philippines lags considerably against world standards of internet service.
It is easy to point an accusing finger at the big telcos – Smart/PLDT and Globe, who form a duopoly and can therefore each demand for more payment extras for their every giga-bit offer to hapless customers who are lured by their super well-paid K-pop endorsers, while customer service is thrown out the window.
Oh yes, do we, poor paying customers stand a chance against the legal team of these behemoth telcos who slap us like fools with their fine print gibberish in our postpaid telco service contract when we complain about poor service?
They can easily say their speed can go up to 100 Mbps, so, if they can give us only 5 Mbps, they are still legally within the bounds of our contract.
But looking at the fine print, our confirmed speed is really 54 Kbps.
But wait a minute! Isn’t this the main reason why no less than President Rodrigo Duterte demanded to have a third telco so as to have another player which can somewhat level the playing field?
So is change forthcoming?
“Mukhang ang tagal naman ata?” so you ruefully say with deep concern.
And this gave us time to think and discover some more facts, which led to more questions, and which in turn led to frustrating observations, that sadly, it would take us eons before we could see the light of day when our internet service will be at par with global standards.
The duopoly of Smart/PLDT and Globe can claim with valid reason that the reason why their service suffers in quality is because they are obstructed by the LGUs which impose a kilometric-long conditions for their cell site deployment so necessary for them to improve their service.
Truly a case of regulation at the local government level. Well, the government, no less than Secretary Eduardo Ano of the DILG, responded swiftly with a drastic reduction of installation conditions for cell site installation.
And talking about regulation which essentially stems from telecom policy, isn’t it that no less than the DICT, which is the information and communication technology (ICT) policy governing body of the state, and NTC, which is the telecoms regulatory implementing body are supposed to be the lynchpins in improving internet in the country?
What have they really done?
During the budget hearing in Congress, it was bared DICT is hard put in implementing the Free Wifi Program in public schools. Last heard, there was supposed to be 44,000 public schools where free Wi-Fi was supposed to be installed. This is to prepare teachers who will be at the schools and students at their homes for the DepEd’s online learning under this pandemic era. It is heartbreaking to hear that DICT admitted during that particular Congress session it could only muster less than 4,000 schools.
And NTC, wasn’t far behind, as they too, were in disarray. One key official missed an important Senate session because, horror of horrors, he could not get an internet connection to participate in that Senate Zoom meeting!
This led Senator Francis Tolentino to remark that if this was the state of our regulatory department for telecommunications, he does not hold such high hopes for improving the internet in the country.
We observed in another session of the ICT Committee of the House of Representatives doing an inquiry on internet, both DICT and NTC could not answer basic questions on the regulation of Wi-Fi, an internet technology whose Spectrum User Fee (SUF) which if the NTC only properly levies to telcos, would help not only the industry but also the country, by a lot!
We learned that had NTC been more alert to global trends and had heeded the International Telecommunication Union or ITU, which is a UN-based international body leading all regulators toward global best practice, many years ago, NTC should not have done what it had been doing throughout all these years since 2005 of wrongfully charging SUF to telcos for the use of Wifi.
This has been the main reason why Wi-fi has not widely mushroomed in the country the way it has in progressive first world countries like the US. And that’s because telcos, which use Wifi, which is a cheap but reliable internet for the masses, have been charged by NTC an extremely high regulatory fee, when ITU says that the global best practice is a regulator of a country should not charge any.
And lately, as the country was battered by a series of deadly typhoons, particularly hitting Catanduanes the most, never has telecommunications, particularly internet, been so much needed to be as basic as food and medicines itself.
With more than 250 kilometer per hour gale-force winds and rain, Typhoons Rolly and Ulysses felled most of the major telcos’ huge cell sites in the Bicol Region, the impact of which could have been greatly reduced ad our regulators as early as 2005 promoted Wifi extensively especially to the masses and in GIDAs (geographically isolated and disadvantage areas).
Unfortunately, they failed to do so. And that is the reason why internet is so slow and so expensive in our country.