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Philippine legislators propose increased budget for broadband services

In an unprecedented move, Philippine legislators are looking to appropriate a significant tranche of the country’s 2021 national budget for telecommunications infrastructure alongside plans to ramp up internet connectivity at a time when it is deemed most vital.

Senator Grace Poe, chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Services, announced in a statement that she and fellow legislators in the Senate are pushing for an allotment of PHP 5.9 billion (US$ 122.61 million) in next year’s budget which would go to national broadband services.

From an initial proposal of PHP 20 billion (US$ 415.6 million), the allocation for these services was reduced to less than PHP 1 billion (US$ 20.7 million). This decrease in the proposed spending prompted a number of senators to ask for a bigger budget next year.

“I am happy to announce that with the help of my fellow senators, we pushed for the increase in the budget allocation for the national broadband because the NEP (National Expenditure Program) only gave about PHP 900 million (US$ 18.7 million),” Poe said during a senate committee hearing held on Monday, 7 December.

According to Poe, this is the first time that planned spending on telecommunications services would be included in the national budget. The Philippines has been, for the most part, reliant on investments in infrastructure made by businesses in the private sector.

Data from the National Telecommunications Commission show that the Philippines’ neighbour countries have taken the leap in investing in broadband infrastructure. Vietnam has invested US $820 million to boost internet connectivity while Malaysia has likewise invested heavily on internet infrastructure. In comparison, Thailand has reportedly spent US$ 343 million for the same services.

Internet as a basic necessity

Poe likewise described broadband services as a necessity. The task of the government, she added, is to ensure and provide reliable internet services to the public “if only to make education accessible to the poor”.

This vision is in line with the directive of President Rodrigo Duterte, which is to boost internet connectivity in the Philippines in preparation for the new normal.

In earlier news reports, the DICT announced that it is setting aside PHP 13.4 billion (US$ 278.4 million) for the national broadband program in 2021. This is a considerable increase from the DICT’s budget this year which amounted only to PHP 296 million (US$ 6.1 million).

Phases of development

Plans to include national broadband services in the country’s spending is just the first phase of a more robust set of objectives. This primarily includes speeding up the rollout of internet services to those in underprivileged areas where broadband connectivity is essential.

Under the National Broadband Program or the NBP was proposed by the Department of Information and Communications Technology in 2017. The NPB is the country’s blueprint for infrastructure development designed to strengthen broadband services. It aims to accelerate the rollout of fibre optics technology and internet connectivity, particularly in remote areas.

The NBP has three major phases. Phase 1 covers the establishment of policy reforms while Phase 2 includes fast-tracking government investments in broadband infrastructure. The last phase of the project involves support for the stimulation of demand for broadband services.

The DICT said that offices which typically consume 100 Mbps of internet connectivity for PHP 35,000 (US$ 727) per month will reduce expenditure to PHP 5,000 (US$ 103) per month. This way, taxpayers money can be allotted for other government projects.

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