Despite possible savings of US$15.4 million in 2021 alone, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) has had to continue calls for an increased national broadband budget.
Reiterating the need for a Government-owned broadband network to improve Internet quality, coverage and affordability, the DICT appealed to the Senate for an additional budget of US$842 million (18 billion pesos) to complete the network through the National Broadband Program (NBP).
Senator Imee Marcos supported the DICT’s call, citing other countries’ success in improving Internet services through a national broadband network.
“Until today, the government has not invested in ICT unlike the other countries in ASEAN where it is nationally and publicly owned, we are entirely reliant on commercial investment,” said Senator Imee Marcos.
“And then we complain when they fall apart or they fail us or they are expensive and raise rates wantonly when in fact they don’t belong to us,” he added.
The 2021 National Expenditure Program-approved budget for the DICT’s NBP is only at US$42.2 million (902 million pesos).
“I would like to support some augmentation for the DICT (budget) given that the only jobs available are online. Our entire educational system is reliant on the online capacities and even the senate is depending only upon our Internet,” Senator Marcos added.
Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) reiterated the need for a Government-owned broadband network. He noted that in other countries, governments are the ones that spend capital expenditure and build infrastructure, and all telcos just lease from the national government.
“That is the model that is being used in other countries, so their service is pretty good. They have no problem with the right of way and they also have no problem with permits because it is the national government that is doing all of that,” said Commissioner Cordoba.
The DICT said it is high time for the government to prioritise ICT programs as the country transitions to the new normal.
“We accept the fact that the appreciation of the government sector for ICT being the future is still limited. What you want is what you can handle, roads, bridges, those that are physical. That’s the infrastructure component. But from where we see it, we believe that we can actually do these simultaneously,” said DICT Secretary Gregorio B. Honasan II.
DICT Assistant Secretary for Digital Philippines, Emmanuel Rey Caintic, explained that the completion of the NBP will result in cheaper and better Internet service quality. He said the Internet in the country is expensive because telecommunications companies like DITO, Globe, PLDT and the new NOW Telecom spend much capital in building ICT infrastructure to deliver Internet services.
Secretary Caintic suggested it will be beneficial if the spectrum users fee that the telcos pay to the Government was reinvested in creating a digital infrastructure.
“The Internet is expensive because the deployment of fibre where towers will be linked is similarly costly. So, if the Government is to deploy fibres, so that Smart, Globe, and DITO can connect to our fibres and distribute Internet to residential areas. We do not wish to compete with the private sector market,” said Secretary Caintic.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, Vice Chairperson for the Senate Committee on Finance, also expressed his support for the immediate completion of the NBP.
“This is the backbone of the economy. In this day and age of modern information technology, we have no reason to not catch up or be at par with the neighboring countries considering that investors look at Internet speed, among the factors considered for investment,” said Senator Lacson.
In comparison to neighbouring countries, the Philippines has a lower budget for its National Broadband Network. Indonesia is reported to have allocated over US$22 billion for its 5-year plan, Vietnam allocated US$820 million on a 23,000km system submarine cable, Singapore is improving their networks by spending US$550 million, while Australia and New Zealand have allocated around US$37 billion and US$1.19 billion, respectively.
For the DICT, ‘South Korea, one of the countries in the world with the fastest Internet, is a model country for those who aspire to improve their Internet connectivity’. In 1995, the Government of South Korea initiated the Korean Information Infrastructure Project, a 10-year program that started with laying internet infrastructure between government buildings.
In 1995, South Korea had only one Internet user for every one hundred citizens, but by 2002, the country had increased this to around 55 Internet users per hundred citizens.
The South Korean Government allocated US$27.6 billion to build a national broadband backbone network, mainly through optical fibre cables, and was able to roll out country-wide broadband by 1998.
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