World Bank economist and lead author of the report “A Better Normal Under Under COVID-19: Digitalizing the Philippine Economy Now”, Kevin Chua, said it accurately, “In a society-wide digital transformation, the government itself must lead by example.”
Elsewhere in the world, governments have funded broadband initiatives to improve connectivity. China reportedly invested US$289B for telecommunications infrastructure in the past four years. Japan averages US$162B on ICT spending annually, while South Korea earmarked US$24B for its public internet backbone. In ASEAN, Vietnam saw an investment of US$820M for a 23,000- kilometer submarine cable system. Thailand’s government spent US$343M to ensure internet broadband connectivity to thousands of villages, while Malaysia allocated US$233M to boost broadband coverage and speed.
The increase in internet usage due to the pandemic leads the World Bank to encourage the Philippine government to invest and improve the country’s communications infrastructure. The shift to digital services is necessary and has now become immediate.
To address this urgent demand for connectivity, Congress needs to grant the Department of Information and Communications Technology’s (DICT) plea for a budget P18.18 billion that would allow it to activate a cable landing station in Baler, Aurora, and connect to the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) node in San Fernando, La Union. With this, the department will able to fire up 4 DICT nodes and 15 NGCP nodes. From there, it can provide bandwidth to nearby government clients and beneficiaries of free Wi-Fi.
The technical roll-out of DITO, the country’s third major player, should also help in the country’s thrust of digitalization. With more than 1,000 cell sites currently being constructed and 1,200 planned base stations on air by January 2021, the delivery of favorable communications services to consumers among the country’s top telcos is expected to heighten next year. DITO’s commercial launch is scheduled for March 2021.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s firm directive to improve digital infrastructure in the country in his last SONA is definitely a step in the right direction. The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) said that it will now take less than a month from the previous 6-7 months to secure government permits to build telecommunications towers in the country.
To be globally competitive in the field of ICT, the Philippine government needs to realize that streamlining legal and regulatory constraints and investment in it is absolutely necessary.