Government needs to flex its muscle on internet connectivity

This administration is characterized by passing on the responsibility to others. For ensuring that the community quarantine regulations are imposed and Covid-19 assistance are distributed, the national government called on the local government units. For the massive Covid-testing, the government is relying on the Red Cross; and, for the proposed mandatory testing of the employees, the government is calling on the employers. For additional help to the workers, including the transportation of employees, the government is relying on the private sector.

But while the government enjoys the practice of “passing the responsibility forward”, it remains mum when it comes to pressuring the telecommunications companies to provide appropriate internet connectivity, speed that should be at par with other developing countries. As the Inquirer editorial on May 23 described the sorry state of Philippine internet connectivity:

(T)he country still has one of the most expensive internet rates in the world, ranking seventh among 62 countries surveyed by e-commerce firm picodi.com last December. It cost $0.56 (about P28.30) for 1 megabit per second (mbps) or $56 (P2,840) for 100 mbps. That rate should at least offer decent internet speed, but in last month’s Speedtest Global Index, the Philippines was still among the slowest—21 mbps compared to the global average of 74.74 mbps, thus ranking 110th out of 174 countries. Cambodia fared better with 21.30 mbps (ranked 108th), while Singapore was the global leader with a download speed of 198.46 mbps.

In terms of mobile internet speed, the Philippines fell six notches to 121 out of 139 countries, its 12.09 mbps far below the global average of 30.89 mbps. Indonesia, in contrast, improved its ranking by four notches with a speed of 14.02, while South Korea’s 88.01 mbps was the fastest globally.

Last time we remember, the Philippine Government has flexed its muscle to close the ABS-CBN. It claimed that the State has the power to grant and recall franchises with telecommunication franchises among them. But despite this power, the only thing that the government can do is draw a plan, ask for budget, wait, and ask for a new budget again the next year. Now that we are becoming more dependent on Internet due to the new normal under Covid, all we can do is try to be contented on a sorry state of digital connectivity we are in. But should we?

With the increasing dependence of the Filipinos on telecommunications and Internet connectivity, maybe it is high time for the government to act and flex its muscle again. Enough with crushing the ants in the war against drugs, or in the implementation of curfews and quarantines. The bigger cake is waiting and this is the society, its education and economy that is dependent on digital technology. The government can always revoke the franchises of those who cannot deliver appropriate services. Set the bar for quality and if the franchise holders cannot do that, they can always close. Franchises are, in the first place, not a privilege but a license and that comes with specific responsibilities for the benefit of the people comprising the State.

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