"We must not settle for this."
It is unsurprising that our country lags in internet speed and connectivity, given that the head of the Department of Information and Communications Technology thinks that 3 to 7 Mbps (megabits per second) speeds are “hindi na …masama” (not bad).
Speaking in a House hearing on Tuesday (Sep. 15) DICT chief Gringo Honasan said: “Without going into figures, we are not doing too badly. Kaya lang po, naiintindihan natin na napakahirap nito ipaliwanag sa taumbayan.”
Why not go into the figures, Mr. Secretary? What are you not telling us? What is it that is so hard to explain to the people – are we dumb or stupid that we can’t understand your explanation?
What we regular folk do know is that internet speeds in this country are abysmally slow and the services are expensive, compared to other countries in the region.
DICT Assistant Secretary Emmanual Caintic, at the same hearing, admitted that our ASEAN neighbors are enjoying speeds of “213.18Mbps … fixed broadband [and] 56.43…mobile.”
We have had this problem for years, but it took a pandemic of global proportions for many decision-makers to realize how urgently this needs to be addressed.
‘New normal’ needs fast Wi-Fi
COVID-19, deadly and stealthy, has changed the world’s normal into one where those of us who can, work and study from home to avoid contracting and spreading the virus.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s policy of suspending face-to-face classes until a vaccine is found is sound, because while we can make up for lost time, we can’t do anything at all when we’re dead.
But with the shift to online classes and work-from-home, it is imperative that we have the right tools. We need fast broadband if we are to be not only productive but above all competitive.
How much time is wasted and work lost because connectivity keeps dropping or the signal fades in and out? For all our talk of entering the international digital economy, we are still hampered by our lack of competitive-level infrastructure.
According to Ookla/speedtest.net’s August figures for average global speeds, the Philippines ranked 119th for mobile, behind Botswana, and 106th for fixed broadband, behind St. Kitts and Nevis. That’s embarrassing.
Work-from-home has many benefits, chief among them that it saves money, time, and effort. No longer is there a need for the miserable commute in hellish traffic. WFH also allows us to live where we please—we are no longer forced to live in or near Manila, a situation that only puts money in the pockets of landlords and condominium developers.
The Acronis Cyber Readiness Report 2020, released last week, found that of their respondents, “only 12 percent of global employees chose full office work as an ideal work arrangement,” and predicted that “a new normal will likely emerge” in line with this. But the Philippines is inadequately equipped for this.
Alarmed by what she called the “sad state” of internet speed and connectivity in the country, Deputy Majority Leader Rep. Bernadette Herrera also on Tuesday called for a congressional inquiry to discover the reasons for the sluggishness and high cost of internet service.
She rightly said that “fast, efficient, and stable internet access” is important for “managing business operations, exploring novel sources of personal income, and continuity of education.”
Herrera cited a December 2019 Daily Guardian report that claimed $20 can buy internet plans of 890 Mbps in Russia and 600 Mbps in China and Lithuania. The same amount will get you a measly 5 Mbps in the Philippines.
This is not the first time a suggestion has been made to hold such a hearing, and not the first time for a lawmaker to become indignant over the sorry state of the country’s internet.
Can the third telco help?
What those previous harangues achieved is that the President opened the field to the entry of a third telecommunications company, in an attempt to break the duopoly of PLDT-Smart and Globe Telecom and challenge them with a competitor who might do better.
The winner of the 2018 provider bidding was Dito Telecommunity (formerly Mislatel), which is expected to roll out its commercial services in March 2021. They committed to the government to provide 27 Mbps to 37 percent of the country’s population in its first year of operation.
Having said that, the question is—can Dito do better than its competitors and provide faster, more stable Wi-Fi speeds at a lower cost?
We mustn’t settle
In its June 2020 Philippine Economic Update, the World Bank found an urgent need for Philippine digital infrastructure to be substantially improved in order for the country to operate successfully in the new normal.
To the DICT officials: 3 to 7 Mbps is awful. We mustn’t settle for “hindi na masama.” We need to do much better if we—and our children—are to succeed in this new world created by COVID-19.
FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO