Political will is key to Internet speed upgrade

Published July 7, 2021, 12:02 AM

by Manila Bulletin

At his State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 2020, President Duterte issued an ultimatum to the country’s two leading telecommunication firms (telcos) – Globe and PLDT-Smart –  to improve their services by December or close shop.

This warning was not to be taken lightly, especially after broadcasting giant ABS CBN Corporation was shuttered in May 2020 as Congress refused to issue a new franchise for its continued operations.

The two giant telcos promised to improve their services while pointing out that excessive regulation by local government units slowed down the erection of much needed cell site towers in key locations.

There was widespread apprehension that this sorry state of affairs would make it difficult for the country to deal with the pandemic, which is still wreaking havoc on public health, the economy, and the Filipinos’ overall well being.

Fortunately, the worst-case scenarios did not materialize. People appear to have adjusted to health and safety protocols. Work-from-home employees are getting used to their new situation.  Even if it still leaves much to be desired, Internet connectivity has been enabling meetings by way of online platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meetings, and Messenger.

The prophets of doom’s forecasts were wrong. Businesses did not collapse, the underground economy is surging and the Filipinos’ resiliency is shining through.

The country’s Internet speed – the common man’s measure of telecoms’ improvement – has picked up speed.  Citing OoklaSpeedtest’s Global Index’s June 2021 report, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) noted that average mobile download speed  had gone up to 32.84 Mbps (Mega bytes per second) from 31.97 Mbps, a 2.7 percent improvement.

Compared to what it was when President Duterte assumed office in June 2016, this marked a whopping 341.4 percent improvement.

Among 46 Asia Pacific countries, the Philippines now ranks 12th, the Speed Test Monitor disclosed. Trailing the Philippines are Russia, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia. Ahead of the Philippines are China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam and four other countries.

In ASEAN countries, the Philippines was ranked at fifth– belonging to the faster half led by Singapore, Brunei, and Thailand, and the Vietnam. The Philippines’ 34.97 rating is 9.52 points behind Vietnam’s 44.49.

This Internet speed was achieved despite the dramatic increase of the country’s Internet usage, which surged by over 500 percent during the lockdown.

The entry of a third player, Dito Telecommunity, while still facing teething problems, may have pushed the two giant telcos to shape up – but it’s readily apparent that it was President Duterte’s emphatic use of the proverbial bully pulpit which spelled the difference.

The telcos built a total of 4,337 towers in 2020, a 148 percent jump from 1,746 towers in 2019.  As of April 2021, 1,672 towers have been erected. Telcos’ fiber optic network now consists of 846,323 cable-kilometers, a 16.5 percent increase from the end-2020 figure.

When the President delivers his final State of the Nation Address (SONA), the people are probably hoping for another demonstration of strong political will.