Set higher goals

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - September 25, 2020 - 12:00am

Dado Banatao, a poor boy from Cagayan, showed us how to dream big. His dream was so big he had to go out of the country to make it happen. He became a respected technopreneur in Silicon Valley.

We, Filipinos, are capable of great things as Dado showed us. Our mediocre performance as a country is because our leaders set the bar for achievements quite low… ma contento sa puede na… Easy to suspect delivering puede na provides room in budgets for corruption.

Two weeks ago, DICT Sec. Gringo Honasan told a congressional budget hearing that our country’s internet connection, an average three to seven Mbps “is not that bad.” Puede na.

During these pandemic days when people work from home, three to seven Mbps is awful. With that speed, it is problematic to do decent conferences online or download big files from the office servers.

OpenSignal, a London-based independent mobile analytics company specializing in “quantifying mobile network experience”, ranks the internet speed in ASEAN countries as follows: Singapore has the fastest download speed of mobile data in Southeast Asia at 47.5 Mbps. Vietnam’s 4G average download speed clocked at 20.6 Mbps, faster than the rest of Southeast Asian countries. Laos (17.1 Mbps), Brunei (16.4 Mbps), Myanmar (16.4 Mbps); Malaysia (11 Mbps); Indonesia (9.9 Mbps); Thailand (9.2 Mbps); the Philippines (8.5 Mbps) and Cambodia (8 Mbps). Halos kulelat tayo and Honasan says that’s good enough.

Honasan sounded like he has given up on the election promise of Duterte to give us decent internet speed. Or worse, he doesn’t understand his job.

Then again, it seems there had been some progress on speed, but not that much… not enough. OpenSignal confirmed some recent improvements.

“Between Q4 2017 and Q1 2020, the average download speeds observed by our Filipino users rose from 4.7 Mbps to 8.5 Mbps, a rise of 3.8 Mbps…

“Between Q4 2017 and Q1 2020, the average download speeds observed by our Globe and Smart users rose by 3.5 Mbps (84.2 percent) and 4.3 Mbps (78.1 percent), respectively. Smart has consistently been in the lead for this measure of the mobile network experience.”

Looks big in percentage, but in reality still too minuscule to celebrate. Incremental gains are good, but we should remain unhappy.

Still, there are reasons for hope. Threat of third telco competition and threats from Duterte to improve by December, seem to be working.

Alfredo S. Panlilio, PLDT chief revenue officer and Smart president, recently said that they are undertaking an 18-month modernization program. Today, PLDT’s fiber optic network footprint has reached 360,000 kilometers, which is the country’s most extensive digital data infrastructure.

Current felt improvements in speed was attributed by OpenSignal to “4G availability — the percentage of time that our 4G users are connected on average to 4G… Given that 4G speeds far exceed those typically seen on 3G, an increase in 4G availability is typically associated with a rise in average download speeds.

“For example, in our April mobile network experience report, Globe and Smart’s 4G download speed scores were three and 3.7 times faster, respectively, than their corresponding scores for 3G download speed.

“Between Q4 2017 and Q2 2020, the 4G availability seen by our Filipino users rose by 19.5 percentage points and pushed past the 80 percent mark…

“Switching to an operator-level look at 4G availability, between Q4 2017 and Q2 2020, Globe’s 4G availability score rose by 14.5 percentage points, while Smart’s climbed by an impressive 27.8 percentage points…

“However, should the Philippines wish to accelerate this trend, then one possible approach would be to draw on some of the actions taken by regulators from around the world to ensure that speeds remained resilient despite the increased load on telecommunications networks that was triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic— such as increasing the availability of spectrum and cutting red tape.”

Surely, all these are lost on Gringo. I am sure it isn’t about Gringo’s age. You can be in your 70s and still be tech savvy and innovative.

The name that comes to mind is Orlando “Doy” Vea, who founded Smart then made his pile selling it to PLDT. He could have retired early, but today heads PLDT’s Voyager operations… the fintech side of the business… to serve the growing digital economy.

Since Gringo isn’t a techie, he probably needs help with a to do list. So, I asked tech and telecom analyst Grace Mirandilla Santos to help list priorities:

- Update the country’s policy and regulation and bring it to the Digital Connectivity Age. This can be done through executive action (Department Order on open access, DO on passive infrastructure sharing, Executive Order on liberalizing satellite access) and legislative action (Open Access in Data Transmission Act and/or Better Internet Act).

These are actually some of the low hanging fruits, supported by various stakeholders. It would be good for the Secretary to take up any of these policy reforms as their champion and leave a legacy of game-changing ICT policies.

- Craft a National ICT Implementation Plan, which will include connectivity (the middle and last mile component of the National Broadband Plan, fast-tracking the deployment of free public Wi-Fi), and strategies for accelerating digital transformation, such as online learning, digital payments, and e-government services, which other agencies are also promoting.

- Review/audit spectrum use and issue a spectrum management policy that will ensure equitable assignment and efficient use of spectrum by various network operators. Connectivity will not improve if spectrum management will remain static. It has to be responsive to the needs of the broadband industry and consumers.

- Complete the National ICT Asset Index, which will guide us on where we are, where we want to go, and what we want to achieve. The recent National ICT Household Survey, for example, presents barangay-level data on access to broadband infrastructure, providing evidence that can help guide policy on universal ICT access.

So much to do, Gringo. So little time left. Set your bar a lot higher. Puede na is not good enough for our country. We are playing catch up with regional neighbors. As a Filipino, Gringo, mahiya ka naman!

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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