State- owned Broadband Network to Improve Internet Quality, Affordability in PHL

Published November 11, 2020, 4:08 PM

by Edgard Hilario

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 pushing for a bigger budget for 2021 to allow the government to complete its own broadband network through the National Broadband Program (NBP) in the face of increasing dependence on connectivity and internet service due to the pandemic.

For the NBP completion, the DICT through its head, Secretary Gregorio Honasan, has appealed to the Senate and the House of Representatives for an additional PHP18 billion for the rollout.

The approved budget under the 2021 National Expenditure Program is only PHP902 million.

“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 has told a Senate budget hearing recently, as he emphasized 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 opposed to other countries because telecommunications companies here spend so much capital to build ICT infrastructures.

“Kaya po mahal (ang internet) kasi mahal po iyong paglatag ng fiber (optic cables) kung saan magkakaroon ng tore. So kung government po ang maglalatag ng fiber, so ang Smart, Globe at DITO, doon na lang sila kakabit sa ating mga fiber. Tapos doon din sila magdi-distribute to the residential,” Caintic said. 

“Kung gagawa po tayo ng fiber backbone—first mile, middle mile—doon tutuhog ang mga tore ng telco,” he added, as he suggested that spectrum users fee paid by telcos can be tapped by the government to re-invest it in creating digital infrastructure.

Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has told the same Senate hearing that government should investment its own broadband network, just like in other countries where states are pouring in massive investments in telecommunications infrastructures for better service. “In all other countries, talaga pong gumagastos ang government sa national broadband. Ang nangyayari po sa ibang bansa ay ang gumagastos po at nagpapatayo ng infrastructure at ang gumagastos po ng capital expenditure ay ang government,” Cordoba said.

“All the telcos ay nagle-lease lang po from the national government. That is the model that is being used in other countries kaya po medyo maganda ang service nila. Wala po silang problema sa right of way at wala rin po silang problema sa mga permits because it is the national government that is doing all of that,” Cordoba explained. 

Studies have shown that in neighboring 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, 10 percent of which was covered by the state budget, while Vietnam has spent about PHP39.7 billion 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 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 and PHP1.9 trillion, respectively, for their own national broadband network.