The need for Internet speed

Published January 7, 2021, 6:00 AM

by J. Albert Gamboa

Internet connectivity is a necessity in most Filipino homes nowadays, and the importance of online activity has become even more heightened because of the pandemic. For the typical family, a good Wi-Fi speed averages 25-30 Mbps to support web browsing, file transmission, music downloads, and video streaming.

But this is not enough when e-learning or online gaming comes into the picture, especially in the new normal when majority of residential dwellers study and work from home. In my own household, we needed a second broadband provider to augment the erratic service of our staple telco on top of our mobile phones’ LTE data subscriptions.

Over the weekend, Senate President Vicente Sotto III ranted in his social media accounts against a relatively new telecommunications firm. “Our Converge internet connection has been down for 4 days now. I’m getting rid it of it!” was his Twitter post tagging the Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT). Subsequently he sent a Viber message to news reporters comparing his faulty connection with another service provider that “works even during bad weather.”

If the third highest official of the land has misgivings about a listed firm that recently debuted at the Philippine Stock Exchange through a huge initial public offering, it indicates how pathetic the state of connectivity is in our country. In fact, the latest statistics from the Speed Test Global Index shows that the Philippines ranked 110th among 174 nations in terms of fixed broadband speed and at 121st place out of 139 countries in mobile internet speed.

Has the DICT done anything about it? Apparently not when its head, Secretary Gregorio Honasan II, stated during a Senate hearing last year that the Philippines’ average internet speed of 3-7 Mbps is “not that bad” which he later retracted after getting called out by irate netizens suffering from Southeast Asia’s slowest speed.

Fortunately, help is on the way from Space Exploration Technology Corp. (SpaceX), a California-based affiliate of Elon Musk’s Tesla Group. In 2018, SpaceX launched its Starlink satellite internet project – an interconnected network of around 12,000 satellites beaming high-speed internet to any place on earth. Since then, the aerospace company has placed 955 Starlink satellites in orbit and will begin commercial services this year.

Last week, SpaceX Vice President Patricia Cooper held a virtual meeting with Senator Aquilino Pimentel III and his legislative staff to discuss Starlink’s potential system coverage of the Philippines by the third quarter of 2021. In his capacity as chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Pimentel explained the constitutional and legal requirements to protect the Philippine government and enable it to engage with SpaceX.

Cooper assured Pimentel’s team that Starlink would be a timely, value-added broadband platform to connect Filipino communities, businesses, and consumers. Pimentel believes that in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippines will immensely benefit from Starlink’s low-latency internet which can make possible the following: effective contact tracing and quarantine monitoring; improved and accessible government services; enhanced security; online education and remote learning; emergency and disaster preparedness.

Pimentel further stressed the urgency of improving broadband connectivity in our country of more than 7,600 islands with a substantial number of citizens working abroad who want to be in touch with one another through efficient and affordable means. According to him, “the pandemic has taught us that connectivity is life.”

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