Friday, December 28, 2018

ICT expert lays down challenges in Philippines' digital infrastructure - Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — Two of the biggest telecommunication service companies in the Philippines announced in June this year the coming of 5G. This fifth generation wireless technology for mobile devices is said to be the latest and fastest of its kind in the world. For broadband internet, the fiber optic technology is the most advanced available in the country.

In this ever-advancing digital landscape, the Philippines may be following outdated regulatory policies.

An information and communication technology expert argued this at The Romulo Foundation’s “Towards a Digital Future” convention supported by PLDT Enterprise last November.

“Is our policy regulatory environment ready for the future of the internet? What can we do to improve the state of internet in the Philippines?” asked Mary Grace Mirandilla-Santos, convenor of Better Broadband Alliance, a coalition of citizens and stakeholders who are committed to supporting policy initiatives for better digital infrastructure in the country.

“We found that we have analog policy and we are using it for digital age,” she revealed.

Currently, the country runs on four regulatory policies on telco technologies and services.

There is the 1931 Radio Control Law, which overseas how the National Telecommunications Commission can assign spectrum. The 1936 Public Service Act, which also looks at how a regulator supervises an industry, and where the NTC gets its funding from. The commission also gets money from a charter passed in 1979.

The youngest law, enacted over two decades ago, is the Public Telecommunications Policy Act of 1995 that came a year after the internet was first introduced in the country.

Challenges faced

Santos laid down the challenges that the sector has been facing. First is the fact that services are telco centric meaning only a telco company with a congressional franchise or a provisional authority can build and operate a network. New players who wish to offer similar services are required to access a telco facility.

“This wouldn’t be so hard if it isn’t very difficult or expensive to get a congressional franchise or to get a license from the NTC and other permits,” Santos said.

In her recorded presentation, Santos laid down the varous challenges that telco sector has been facing in providing connectivity and internet to under and unserved Filipinos throughout the country. Released

Related policies are also anchored on installment of landlines. She explained, “If you’re a mobile cellular operator or you want to put up an international gateway facility, you are required by law to deploy 300,000 to 400,000 landlines.”

However, this requirement was established when landline was still the main mode of communication in the country. This is not the case today.

There is also the restriction on foreign ownership. NTC requires companies and even test emerging internet technologies to be 60-percent Filipino owned.

Inconsistent and unclear standards and rules for data infrastructure are also a negative development for new players and technologies.

“Different local government units, homeowners associations, buildings, they all impose different requirements and fees when service providers go out there and try to install internet or fiber,” Santos said.

Finally, the Better Broadband Alliance convenor revealed that “some entities are engaged in spectrum banking.” Because of this, the Philippine Competition Commission estimates that only 12.8 percent of usable spectrum is left for a new player.

“Can we open up new spectrum for wireless technologies that are up and coming and that promise to connect our citizens?” she challenged.

Pro-active stance

There is hope to be found in the Philippines’ digital infrastructure, Santos enthused.

In the 20th century, the NTC has been proactive in its regulation. In 2005, it issued rules for 3G even before it became available here, and it classified voice over the internet phone call (VoIP) as value added service so telcos can offer it.

“And very recently, the Department of Information and Communications Technology used the free Wi-Fi program as a vehicle where new technologies and small players are able to participate to bring connectivity to the unserved and underserved Filipinos,” Santos said.

Santos was referring to Republic Act No 10929, or the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act, which enables users to connect to public internet access points without a fee.

Public places covered in this act initially included national and local government offices, public based education institutions, state universities and colleges, TESDA schools, public hospitals, health centers, rural health units, public parks, plazas, libraries, barangay reading centers, public airports and seaports, and public transport terminals.

The DICT plans to have as many as 14,000 sites in 1,400 municipalities nationwide. This will be expanded to 200,000 access points by 2020. If done, it would be the biggest free WiFi deployments in the world.

READ: Free WiFi Program: It’s complicated

According to Santos, there are already 1,592 internet access points as of August of this year. It’s still a long way to go.

Forty-five percent of 103 million Filipinos still have no access to internet. The same is true to 61 percent of 23 million households, and 74 percent of 46,700 public schools, in data gathered by the Broadband Commission in 2017 and the Department of Education in 2016.

What can be done?

More needs to be done to improve digital connectivity among the Filipinos.

Santos recommended reforming the policies like removing landline requirement of the Public Telecom Act, relaxing foreign ownership limits on the Public Service Act and applying amendments on the Open Access Transmission Act. This includes reclassifying data-only services, reforming spectrum management, and setting up directives to standardize data infrastructure rules.

The panel, which was composed of (from left) Henry Aguda, chief technology and operations officer and chief transformation officer of Union Bank of the Philippines, Tenzin Dolma Norbhu, head for Access and Connectivity Policy for Asia Pacific, Facebook, and Joachim Horn, chief technology and information advisor of PLDT and Smart, together with moderator Peter Lovelock, director and co-founder of Technology Research Project Corporate, provided more insight on the topic of creating a digital future for Filipinos. Released

Session panelist Henry Aguda, chief technology and operations officer and chief transformation officer of Union Bank of the Philippines, urged telcos to step up and innovate.

Santos shared emerging technologies that both telco providers and even new players can pursue and develop. Fore wired internet, telcos can start to provide fiber to premises or FTTP, which runs optical fiber from a central office straight to premises occupied by consumers. This is inexpensive and very efficient.

For wireless technologies, technologies named include 5G, TV Whitespace, High Altitude Platform Services and low earth orbit satellite networks, among others.

From a perspective of a telecommunication stakeholder, educating consumers must also be done.

“Many people don’t know how to access a network. If you want to have LTE service, you have to have LTE phone, you have to have LTE sim. You need to go to an area that provides LTE. Sounds simple, but the problem is still out there and is not being understood,” said Joachim Horn, chief technology and information advisor of PLDT and Smart.

Also providing insight during the second session of Towards a Digital Future was panelist Tenzin Dolma Norbhu, head for Access and Connectivity Policy for Asia Pacific, Facebook. She reestablished Facebook’s goal of building communities in the digital world.

Session 2 was moderated by Peter Lovelock, director and co-founder of Technology Research Project Corporate.

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