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Third telco player might just worsen the sorry state of the Philippine Internet
By Lionell Go Macahilig - on 02 Mar 2018, 10:59am

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Social media buzzed once again in line with the renewed public clamor for better Internet connection in the country, more particularly the entry of a third telco player.

In a data released by Research & Tech Lab (RTL), a digital research and consulting company based in the Philippines, it revealed that 53.8% of the 19,225 social media sentiments that were gathered from June to November 2017 talked about telcos. Almost a hundred percent (99.88%) of these sentiments expressed dissatisfaction with the local telcos, specifically Globe Telecom, Smart Communications, and Sky Cable, citing costly yet poor Internet service. Meanwhile, combined sentiments related to a Chinese telco are generally favorable. The government under the Duterte administration is also gaining positive online sentiments, with its obvious support for the entry of a third telco player.

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RTL also observed that Alibaba Founder and Executive Chairman Jack Ma’s remark on the Philippine Internet speed made Filipino consumers become more aggressive in demanding the government to invite a third telco player from China in the competition. Out of the 932 online sentiments that were gathered, 64.38% of which manifested support for the government, whereas less than 20% showed fear that China might use the entry of its telco as a way to spy on the Philippines and manipulate government activities.

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In defense of its position on this issue, Globe Telecom reasoned out that some communities and homeowners associations in Metro Manila are preventing the company from installing telco infrastructures in these areas. Globe added that without these infrastructures, residents cannot get good mobile signal. In addition to its strategies in improving Internet connectivity in the country, Globe commercially launched the USD 250-million Southeast Asia-United States (SEA-US) submarine cable system in August last year. Globe President and CEO Ernest Cu also welcomed the entry of a third party player in the competition.

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Market research and consulting firm International Data Corporation (IDC) pointed out that the problem on Internet connectivity is aggravated due to the exhaustive red tape and other bureaucratic obstacles in the government. For example, the complexity of processing of documents and permits for the installation of a telco infrastructure at the local government level can be seen in the explanation provided by the former Secretary of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), Rodolfo Salalima:

“Upon the submission of the application, all government units and barangays, including the provinces, must act in seven days. If there is no action within seven days, the mayor involved must act within two days. If there is no action, then the application is considered approved. If the mayor denies, then he or she has to put the reasons. If the reasons are flimsy, then I’ll go the Ombudsman then I run after that person. We have been blaming telcos for the inefficient service, but let us also go beyond by looking at their problems. Unless we solve also their problems, we cannot solve our service. So I said I will run after the LGUs the moment the President signed that executive order. In fact, I have also prepared a personal letter addressed to the LGUs in the provinces to issue the permits in seven days, copy furnishing the President, DILG, as well as the corresponding league of governors and mayors, and 8888,” Salalima said.   

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These are among the reasons why the Philippines is among those countries which have the lowest cell site density in the ASEAN region. In order to resolve these issues, the government must implement strategies that involve policy changes, organizational restructuring, and solid partnerships.

Even before the government raised the issue of a third telco player, consumers, including some industry players, have been frustrated with the sorry state of Internet connection in the country.

“So we are really deprived to access the best service in this country,” said Dennis Anthony Uy, President and CEO of Converge ICT. “There is still a huge market. The market is very hungry that is why we need to put up the infrastructure. Once you have this information highway, the economy will follow, because the right communications infrastructure is vital to economic growth.”

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IDC shares the same belief, citing that it is high time for our government to take a more cohesive and definite ICT direction, particularly the creation of a reliable information highway, through a dedicated ICT agency (DICT). IDC believes that by doing so, the Philippines can finally catch up with other digital economies such as our ASEAN neighbors like Singapore or even beyond Asia.

Although the process of resolving the problem of Internet connectivity in the Philippines involves a collective effort, the national government, through its agencies and local government units, should be the primary driver of this movement. While the entry of third telco player from China is very welcome due to its possible technological superiority, it might encounter the same obstacles suffered by the established telcos in the country, such as red tape, heavy bureaucracy, and outdated telco regulations. If the government would not be able to resolve these matters first, the third telco player would just add up to and be caught up in the already intricate issue of the Philippine Internet. 

Lionell Go Macahilig

Lionell Go Macahilig / Group Editor

Building on the learnings that he earned from the academe and his almost three-year professional experience in the outsourcing industry, Lionell joined HardwareZone Philippines in 2007. In his free time, he runs his PC shop and reads various articles online. He also likes cats and jogging.