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Philippines President approves detailed study of government investment in broadband infrastructure

Update 2: Denis F. Villorente, Undersecretary for Innovation and Development at the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) delivering the keynote address at the OpenGov Leadership Forum in Manila on March 9 commented on news reports about Presidential approval of the NBP.  It was misreported that the NBP had been approved by the President. The NBP has not been finalised yet. DICT was seeking the President’s approval for conducting a more detailed study on Option 2, among three options presented. This Option 2 involves government investment in broadband infrastructure. DICT obtained the requested approval and posted a working draft (mentioned below in Update 1) of the NBP inviting comments and inputs from all stakeholders.

Update 1: The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) has shared the working draft of the NBP Plan on its website, and is inviting inputs and comments until 24th March 2017. The OpenGov report on the draft can be read here

President Rodrigo Duterte approved the National Broadband Plan (NBP) for the Philippines during the 13th Cabinet Meeting in Malacañang on March 6, according to an announcement on Facebook by  Emmanuel Piñol, Secretary of the Philippine Department of Agriculture.

According to the post, the President also approved the establishment of a National Government Portal and emphasised the need for faster communications in the country, following a presentation by Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Secretary, Rodolfo Salalima.

Last year, in his first State of the Nation address in July, President Duterte directed the newly created DICT to develop a National Broadband Plan to accelerate the deployment of fiber optics cables and wireless technologies to improve Internet speed. DICT held consultations in late November 2016 with participants from the government and private sector. The objective is to create a national broadband network that is “open, pervasive, inclusive, affordable, and trusted” by interconnecting government offices across the country, increase internet penetration, especially in remote and far-flung areas, and stimulate economic growth through the digital empowerment of the people.

Participants were asked to provide inputs and recommendations on three approaches being considered for the NBP: 1) Building backbone, putting up physical infrastructure in the countryside to serve government needs 2) A hybrid model, where government networks and services are established to “unserved” and “underserved” areas, but infrastructure can be rented out to telecom companies (telcos) and 3) the government entering into the market as a complete telecommunications player. Participants were also urged to study the systems implemented in other countries and learn from them. .

Further details are awaited on the approved plan but according to earlier news reports, Secretary Salalima said DICT had opted to recommend Option 2. Existing telco service providers could use the government-built infrastructure to deliver services in far-flung areas for a fee. This option is estimated to require investment up to PHP 200 billion ~USD 4 billion). He expected the plan to be implemented within one to three years, following the President’s approval. A  Q3 2016 report from Akamai found that Philippines had the second lowest average connection speeds among surveyed countries/regions in Asia Pacific, at 4.2 Mbps. The country was ranked 103rd globally.

In order to speed up the Internet in the country, there is a need to activate more cell sites, according to most telco providers, but the bureaucratic red tape gets in the way of network deployment. The tedious process of securing permits from many local governments, national government agencies, barangays and subdivisions impedes construction, thus affecting the availablity of service in certain areas. A report on the State of Telecom service in Philippines on the DICT website said there is a need to activate more cell sites in order to speed up the Internet in the country. However, the process of obtaining permits from Local Government Units (LGUs), national government agencies, barangays (smallest administrative division in the Philippines) and subdivisions

It quoted National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba saying an average of 25-30 permits are required from LGUs for the construction of one cell site. The permits are usually processed in eight months.The process is further hindered by lack of uniformity in processing fees in different LGUs.

In addition, requirement of permits from impedes construction, thus affecting the availability of service in certain areas. The report also raised concerns over barriers to market entry, controversies around frequency allocation and mobile spectrum hoarding.

DICT is working to tackle these problems, holding a Telecommunications Summit as a first step to bring together stakeholders.

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