A Call to Accelerate the Improvement of Philippine Internet

Information and the ability to connect is one of the most crucial needs at this time that we are battling a pandemic. We are requested to be in quarantine, maintain physical distancing, and are requested to lend a hand to the government in whatever way we can. But because mobility is restricted and lockdown is enforced, the only logical way to turn to is the digital highway — the telephones and the Internet. The problem: they are not as stable as they ought to be.

Much has been said about the turtle-paced Internet connection of the country. One may not need a P300 Million intelligence fund to understand that and another P800 Million to be able to say that something needs to be done.

But while we do sympathize with the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) on how difficult it is to implement an honest to goodness response to this issue, maybe it is high time for the Department to act also a little bit faster and more focused than usual. In the immediate, provide connectivity at the battlefronts of this public health crisis and, in the medium- and long-term, institute policy reform that will sustainably promote the development and propagation of ICT infrastructure, such as the proposed Open Access in Data Transmission Act and amendments to the Public Telecoms Policy Act that are pending in Congress.

I stand with the individuals and organizations who are pushing for this call. We cannot win against Covid-19 with the “business as usual” and “normal Internet connectivity”. Below is the complete Statement and Call to Action on the government and the DICT.

Accelerating the Improvement of Philippine Internet: A Lifeline amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

But, as recent reports have noted, the ECQ has exposed the gaps in the country’s digital infrastructure. The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) noted that “our infrastructure is not enough” for a WFH setting, noting that we have one of the lowest tower densities in Asia.[1] Employees outside of Metro Manila grapple with slow Internet connection that does not meet the requirements of their job. The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) recognized the difficulty of students in using online/distance learning because of poor internet connection,[2] while some schools and local governments decided to cancel online classes altogether because of the lack of Internet connectivity in the homes.[3] This situation needs to change now and beyond the ECQ.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical and central importance of the Internet. For policymakers, the Internet can provide real-time information for decision-making to fight COVID-19. For citizens, the Internet allows them to work from home (WFH), learn online, use e-commerce platforms, avail themselves of telehealth services, communicate with friends and family, and other things. For both the government and the general public, access to the Internet means access to applications and technological solutions for mobile banking and digital payments, making social protection program transfers quick, costless, traceable and transparent. In the midst of telehealth and telemedicine, the internet makes it possible for a more efficient health system through the use of electronic medical records, as mandated by the Universal HealthCare Law. It is also crucial in the fight against COVID-19 as it is a necessary tool for contact tracing, subject to the data privacy act.

Outlined below are a set of immediate actions the government can take to significantly improve Internet connectivity as the country deals with this pandemic. Under the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act” and forthcoming legislation, we recommend that the IATF:

  1. Instruct the DICT to procure, on an emergency basis, the services of Internet service providers (ISPs) to install facilities and provide Internet services, using any type of technology, to establishments, such as hospitals, quarantine/isolation facilities, health centers, city/municipal halls, and barangay halls. In addition, the DICT should prioritize extending the connection of GovNet to establishments carrying out critical functions. (IATF and DICT action)

2. Recommend to the President the issuance of policy that lowers barriers to entry and encourages more investment for a robust and expansive digital infrastructure that goes beyond the urban centers. These include:

  • An executive order to allow ISPs and value-added service providers to connect directly to international satellites for broadband connectivity, especially for the unserved and underserved areas;
  • An executive order to mandate tower and passive infrastructure sharing; and
  • Other policy and regulatory issuances necessary to promote broadband infrastructure development, as indicated in the National Broadband Plan and the Philippine Development Plan (Executive action)

3. Direct the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) and encourage private lending institutions to create a loan facility for micro, small and medium-sized[4] ISPs who wish to rollout data networks in the underserved and unserved areas. (Presidential action)

4. Instruct and authorize the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) to review and recommend revisions to the licensing and permitting requirements of local government units (LGUs) and national government agencies (NGAs) that may be causing unnecessary delay in the deployment of Internet facilities, especially during an emergency. Prioritize, for example, only safety-related requirements such as the height clearance issued by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP). (IATF action) 

We cannot succeed in our fight against COVID-19 unless we address the country’s Internet coverage and quality of service. While the immediate call is to provide connectivity at the battlefronts of this public health crisis, we urge the government to also focus on medium- and long-term policy reform that will sustainably promote the development and propagation of ICT infrastructure, such as the proposed Open Access in Data Transmission Act and amendments to the Public Telecoms Policy Act that are pending in Congress. As we establish the “new normal,” pervasive, secure, and affordable Internet will be vital to keep everyone connected with their family, work, school, business, and the rest of the world.

SIGNED,

Organizations:

2030 Youth Force in the Philippines, Inc.

Action for Economic Reforms

Akbayan Youth UP Diliman

ANG NARS

Asia Pacific Center for Evidence Based Health Care (APCEBH)

Ayos na Gamot sa Abot kayang Presyo (AGAP)

Buklod CSSP

CEDES

Consolidated Council of Health and Allied Professions (CCHAPS-PSLINK)

Fair Trade Alliance

Galing Pook Foundation

Happy Hour Philippines – Mental Health

Health Care without Harm (HCWH)

Junior Philippine Economics Society

KALikha UP Diliman

Millennials PH

NVAP

One for Nursing Empowerment – Philippines

Philippine College of Physicians

Philippine Medical Association

Philippine Pediatric Society

Philippine Tuberculosis Society

PUP CSSD SC

PUP Economics Research Society

PUP Sociology Society

Rotaract Club of Raha Sulayman Volunteers

Sikhay EDUK

The Oikonomos Nexus

United Healthcare Org of the Philippines (UHOP)

UP ALYANSA

UP Economics Towards Consciousness

Y’s Men’s Club of RAHA Paranaque

Individuals:

Dr. Anthony Leachon

Dr. Antonio Dans

Dr. Camilo C. Roa, Jr.

Dr. Leah Paquiz

Dr. Rogelio Dazo

Dr. Anton Javier

Angelica Quintana

Dexter Galban

Jay Carizo, SolStrat

Jhayee Ilao

Jofti Villena

John Santeo Tamayo

Ma. Via Jucille Roderos

Magtangol Roque Jr., (Chief Executive, M2.0 Communications, Media Meter, Outboxed Inc.)

Marc Clint Noel Abiog

Mars Mendoza, Fair Trade Alliance

Matthew Volante

Michelle Palmones

Paeng Lopez

Patrick Acupan

Prof. Maria Fe Villamejor-Mendoza

Stephanie P. Reyes


[1] Businessworld. 2020 March 19. Work-from-home surge slowing Internet services. https://www.bworldonline.com/work-from-home-surge-slowing-internet-services/

[2] CHED. 2020 March 17. Chairman’s statement. https://ched.gov.ph/blog/2020/03/17/chairmans-statement/

[3] Cebu Daily News. 2020 March 22. Gwen urges DepEd, schools to cancel online classes. https://cebudailynews.inquirer.net/296277/gwen-urges-deped-for-schools-to-cancel-online-classes

[4] Republic Act 9501 or the Magna Carta for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) defines MSME as any business activity or enterprise with value of not more than P100 million.

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