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Gov’t red tape holding back process

THE Philippine government’s move to spread Wi-Fi Internet access all over the country shows the great importance it attaches to the Internet’s role in the national life. Among President Duterte’s proud announcements in his State-of-the-Nation Address last July 24 was that the government has now established 400 public “hotspots” nationwide where Filipinos can gain access to the Internet.

This year, the Department of Information and Communication Technology announced, it is investing P2.9 billion to set up more such locations in municipal halls, schools, and health centers. Next year, it will spend another P1.2 billion under the National Broadband Plan.

The Philippines, however, has a very long way to go in Internet services and a big part of the reason its red tape on the part of government agencies when it comes to investments, local and international, that would boost Internet services in the country.

The Philippines today is only No. 100 worldwide in the list of countries with Internet services, with an average transmission speed of 5.5 megabits per second (mbps). This compares with the 28.6 mbps of South Korea, No. 1 in the list.

A move of the Alibaba Group to invest in Globe Telecom’s financial technology subsidiary Mynt, has been held up in the Philippine Competitive Commission (PCC) which reviews all investments involving at least P1 billion to ensure, it said, that there is a level playing field.

Over a year ago, the PCC sought to assert its authority over the acquisition of a 700-megahertz frequency by Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. and Globe Telecom from San Miguel Corp. that would have enabled the two principal Internet servers to greatly improve their services. The PCC lost its case in the Court of Appeals and immediately raised its case to the Supreme Court, where the matter rests to this day.

The problem of red tape is also holding back the erection of relay towers which require the approval of local governments. A least 25 permits are needed for one cell site, not only from LGUs but also from villages, subdivisions, and homeowners associations, and the whole process takes months. This should explain why the Philippines today has only 16,300 towers, compared to Vietnam’s 70,000.

On so many fronts, the government can speed up processes that are delaying the improvement of Internet services in the country today. We realize that the country faces so many problems today – drugs, criminality, corruption, terrorism, rebellion, etc. – but basic economic programs and reforms are also urgently needed and that includes better Internet services which connect us to one another and to the rest of the world.