Philippine government to develop national broadband plan

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday that he wants the newly created Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) to develop a national broadband plan to accelerate the deployment of fiber optic cables and wireless technologies to improve internet speed.

He also announced that Wi-Fi access shall be provided at no charge in selected public places, including parks, places, public libraries, schools, government hospitals, train stations, airports, and seaports.

A previous government initiative to establish a National Broadband Network (NBN) was scrapped in 2007 after the $329-million contract awarded to Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE for the project had been investigated in the Senate.

In 2011, the then Commission on Information Communications Technologies (CICT) had also released a five-year digital roadmap that aimed to craft a vision for ICT use in governance, including the creation of a national broadband policy that would enable the environment for broadband development and use.  

Duterte’s call for a new national broadband plan came on the heels of a wide public clamor for fast and affordable internet.  The Philippines had ranked poorly in many global indices for digital readiness.

The country trails behind its Southeast Asian neighbors, for example, in the latest Network Readiness Index published by the World Economic Forum, which measures how economies use the opportunities offered by ICT for increased competitiveness. At 77th place in a 139-country study, the Philippines was behind Singapore (1st), Malaysia (31st), Thailand (62nd), Indonesia (73rd). 

Duterte’s assumption into office on June 30 came at a favorable time as the law mandating the creation of the DICT as the primary body that would create policies and drive the national ICT agenda was signed by former President Benigno Simeon Aquino III last May.

The country’s first appointed DICT Secretary Rodolfo A. Salalima affirmed in his first media interview that the government cannot expect the commercial service providers to be in all parts of the country and there would be a need for the government to establish an ‘infostructure’ in the countryside and provide service.

Shortly before Duterte’s inauguration as the country’s 16th president last June, Globe Telecom had called on the government to help develop broadband access in the Philippines by investing in internet infrastructure in rural and far-flung areas.Globe President and CEO Ernest Cu said in a media statement that telecommunication operators in the country are unable to deploy infrastructure in rural areas due to business viability issues.

“There are a lot of localities in the country that cannot be reached economically. What we propose is for the government to build the infrastructure, such as submarine cables, and then rent these facilities out to telco operators,” he said, citing the case of Sulu and Basilan provinces in the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao.

To provide adequate connectivity for the area, Globe said it needed to build a submarine cable system, amounting to $30- $35 million, a great expense considering the area’s low revenue base. It also said fiber optics, one of the most important advances in broadband technology, offers the fastest way to access data, providing consumers with higher download and uploads speeds, lower latency and faster internet browsing.

Meanwhile, providing Wi-Fi connectivity in public places was a project started by the former Information and Communications Technology Office of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-ICTO).

Recently, the Department of Transportation has signed a landmark agreement recently with PLDT Inc. to strengthen data connectivity with the installation of Smart Wifi in major airports, seaports, and bus terminals all over the country, as well as mass transport systems, MRT and LRT.

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade and PLDT and Smart Chairman, President, and CEO Manuel V. Pangilinan signed the agreement to deploy wireless data connectivity that will also be available on station platforms, and light railway vehicle (LRV), as well as on the street level of the entire lines of MRT3, and LRT 1 and 2.