November 30, 2020

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State-owned Broadband Network to improve internet quality, affordability in the Philippines

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) is pushing for the completion of the government-owned broadband network in a bid to improve the internet quality in the country, expand its coverage and make it more affordable to people. The DICT has been looking for a bigger budget for 2021 to allow the government to complete its broadband network through the National Broadband Program (NBP) in the face of increasing dependence on connectivity and internet service due to the pandemic.

The approved budget under the 2021 National Expenditure Program has been set PHP 902 million (US$ 18.6 million). Secretary Gregorio Honasan has appealed to the Senate and the House of Representatives for an additional PHP18 billion (US$ 371.4 million) for the NBP completion and rollout.

“We accept the fact that the appreciation of the government sector for ICT being the future is limited. More priority is given to those which can be felt—roads, bridges—those that are physical. That’s the infrastructure component. But from where we see it, we believe that we can actually do these simultaneously,” Honasan said at a Senate budget hearing recently,  where he emphasised that the new normal dictates that the government should make ICT program a priority.

According to Rey Caintic, DICT assistant secretary for Digital Philippines, the completion of the NBP will make internet service cheaper and accessible while improving the quality. He added that the country’s internet service may be expensive as compared to other countries because of the costs involved to build relevant ICT infrastructure.

These costs would include laying of fibre optic cables and erecting towers. The government needs to builds a fibre backbone – first mile, middle mile. When the government lays this groundwork (like the towers and fibre) private networks can connect to this infrastructure and start to distribute to residential sectors. He suggested that spectrum users fee paid by telcos can be used by the government to re-invest it in creating more digital infrastructure.

Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) reiterated at the same the senate hearing that the Philippine government should invest in a broadband network, just other countries where states pour massive capital in telecommunications infrastructures for better service. All the telcos lease from the national government. That is the model that is being used in other countries so their service is reasonable. They have no problem with the right of way and with permits because it is the national government that is doing all of that.

Studies have shown that in neighbouring Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia and Vietnam, their governments have made substantial investments for its internet and national broadband plan. From 2014-2019, Indonesia’s total funding requirement for its national broadband plan amounted to approximately PHP1.12 trillion (US$ 23.1billion), 10 %of which was covered by the state budget. Vietnam has spent about PHP39.7 billion (US$ 532.1million) worth of investments for a 23,000-km system submarine cable to boost its ICT.

Meanwhile, South Korea, one of the countries with the fastest internet service in the world, had invested some PHP1.34 trillion (US$ 27.7billion) in 1995 for its internet connectivity under the 10-year Korean Information Infrastructure Project, its version of the NBP. Australia and New Zealand had allocated PHP1.79 trillion (US$ 36.9 billion) and PHP1.9 trillion (US$ 39.2 billion), respectively, for their national broadband network.

The Philippines is taking its internet connectivity and wi-fi access for all very seriously and has been for several years. The Philippine government has an ambitious program to provide free public Wi-Fi to all citizens in all public places in the country underpinned by legislation that passed in 2017 that mandates the government’s Department of Information and Communications (DICT) to implement the Free Public Internet Access Program.

OpenGov Asia has reported on DICT’s boosting communication services in aftermath of typhoon Goni. It has also distributed free wi-fi to schools including Zamboanga, province-wide connectivity in Zambales and to aid in military education. Another article revealed how the National Broadband Program could save the Philippines US$ 15 million in 2021