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Bridging the Digital Divide and Accelerating Digital Transformation Strategies in the Philippines

The Covid-19 pandemic is pushing countries to adopt digital technologies to better deal with the enormous consequences of this health crisis. Nevertheless, when it comes to digitalisation, the Philippines continues to face challenges such as an expanding digital divide and a lack of access, to name a few. Experts, government officials, and technology leaders recently convened to discuss digitalisation’s critical role in the country’s economic growth.

The online forum also launched the release of a white paper titled “Overview of the Development of the Digital Economy in the Philippines”, which was the result of a study conducted by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.

According to the Vice Dean and Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore, as mobility restrictions and social distancing measures have limited face-to-face interaction, the availability of digital technology has emerged as a key determinant for resilience and continuous growth. He said for a developing country like the Philippines, “digital technology ensures better governance, improves the quality and reach of e-learning, and creates and/or retains jobs and industries. It could also aid pandemic response by facilitating safety protocols, vaccine rollouts, and accessible health and non-health services to curb Covid-19 cases.”

The government, he felt,  should invest in both infrastructure and people to promote the digital economy. This also includes government policies and projects that can supplement commercial initiatives to ensure equal access to technology and training for all Filipinos.

OpenGov Asia in an article reported on the CHIP framework which stands for Connect, Harness, Innovate, and Protect is to implement plans, programmes, and initiatives aimed at accelerating the digital transformation to strengthen the country’s digital economy in the new normal, said the agency. Through this framework, they shall strive for the economy to come out of the new normal stronger and more promising than before, they added.

The CHIP framework was adopted from the World Bank Digital Economy 2020 report, and it outlines and restructures the DICT’s plans and initiatives to accelerate the digital transformation of the country in the new normal.

The CHIP framework is composed of the following initiatives:

  • The Connect component contains the DICT’s digital connectivity and infrastructure programmes.
  • Harness pertains to capacity-building initiatives to upskill Filipinos for the digital economy.
  • Innovate highlights the Department’s government modernisation and digitisation projects.
  • and lastly, the Protect component focuses on the mitigation of risks and threats as the country transitions to a digitally enabled economy.

As the DICT rallies its efforts under the framework, the agency aims to enhance its plans to be more responsive to the actual needs and demands of the Philippine ICT landscape.

The Free Wi-Fi for All Programme, on the other hand, will improve internet access to bridge the digital divide and expand socio-economic opportunities for the public. The Department intends to establish a total of 10,069 live sites by the end of 2020, with 2,588 sites to be formed in government hospitals and rural health sites to support COVID-19 recovery efforts. A total of 23,100 sites are planned for this year. The Free Wi-Fi for All Programme also adapted its implementation to the most pressing need during the pandemic, installing around 50 government-designated quarantine facilities nationwide with Internet access to provide connectivity for both patients and doctors.

The Philippine’s lawmaker meanwhile stressed that “while there are people with access to the Internet, there are grossly underserved or unserved,” she said, noting that “broadband is still a challenge, considering that broadband speeds in the country average 16Mbps, which is far from the average of many countries.”

Ultimately, a technology firm added that digital transformation is an ongoing process, and the Philippines ranks first in the world for Internet usage and social media usage.

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