With internet access transcending its former image as a privilege for the rich, connectivity has now trickled down to other social ranks due to the global digital revolution. However, in 2020, when the world was sent to a standstill due to the pandemic, workers and students were plunged into the world of hyperawareness of slow internet connections in the Philippines. From constant disconnections to lagging video conferences, the frustration has constantly been building up for the past few years. However, what’s much more frustrating for consumers is that not only does the Philippines have slow internet connection speeds, but internet service providers also charge more.
The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) ranks the Philippines based on their affordability score the lowest in the ASEAN, behind Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia. The average internet speed also lags ahead of our ASEAN neighbors, with an average download speed of 49.52 mbps for fixed broadband, and 17.95 mbps for mobile data. As of January 2022, the Philippines is ranked at 67th place based on Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index, an international web service that analyzes internet performance all over the world. Unsurprisingly, other ASEAN countries continuously top the Ookla global median speeds, namely Singapore and Thailand.
But why does the Philippines suffer from poor and slow internet connection while other countries have started to gain momentum when it comes to providing better connectivity? There are a variety of factors, including the government’s regulations, weak digital infrastructures in the Philippines, and the lack of strong competition in the internet service industry.
Internet Access Opens Up an Endless World of Information for Filipinos
For Frank La Rue, the special rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion of the UN, the Internet is a human right. Access to the Web, La Rue argued, is not merely a privilege for the rich and the famous, but is now considered a basic need, as the Internet is an avenue where people can enjoy their rights to freedom of expression and opinion.
It also gives people access to a marketplace of information—a library of ideas and opinions, where people converge and exchange concepts and ideas encompassing basically anything under the sun.
La Rue pointed out that the Internet, like any other medium, enables individuals to “seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds instantaneously and inexpensively across national borders.”
“Given that the Internet has become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality and accelerating development and human progress, ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a priority for all states. Each state should, thus, develop a concrete and effective policy…to make the Internet widely available, accessible, and affordable to all segments of population,” he said.
Government Policies Influence Poor Internet Connection in the Philippines
One of the strong factors why the Philippines suffers from slow internet connectivity is the government’s regulatory bottlenecks, including the law that’s hampering the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to regulate internet service in the country as a basic service.
According to the Deputy Commissioner of NTC, Edgardo V. Cabarios, the NTC requires additional powers to better regulate internet speed and price. With numerous complaints filed at the NTC concerning slow internet connections in the Philippines, Cabarios notes that it is now more apparent that internet connection has become a need instead of a want for the Filipino people – which is now more obvious than ever with thousands or even millions of employees and students now needing a stable internet connection to communicate clearly and to learn without any impediments.
Cabarios states that if internet connection is branded as a necessity, the NTC will be able to clearly dictate the price and the speed required for all telecommunication companies and internet service providers.
In addition, weak competition, and the lack of foreign internet providers to provide local ISPs with competition is also driving slow internet connections all over the Philippines.
What Is the Government Doing to Solve Slow Internet Connections in the Philippines?
As the Philippines continues its losing streak in the broadband-speed wars, lawmakers had moved to conduct a probe to help improve the “pathetic state” of the Internet in the country in the past years.
In 2016, Sen. Francis G. Escudero called for an inquiry on the state of the Philippine broadband market, calling it “unacceptable” given that it has a direct impact on many industries, like the business-process outsourcing sector, which currently helps grow the Philippine economy.
“The current situation in the country is, sad to say, unacceptable. The state of Internet speed is pathetic, and unless we remedy this situation, our IT [information technology] sector is likely to suffer in the long term,” he said. He called on the NTC to start cracking the whip and fix the system immediately.
“If they have to be mandated to allocate some of their earnings for improving Internet speed, mainly through investing in more equipment and hardware, then so be it,” Escudero said.
He added: “These telcos have been going to town in the past few years telling their shareholders that they have been earning billions of pesos. But they conveniently forget the millions of subscribers and users who put those billions in their coffers, but who continue to suffer from poor service.”
As of the end of 2021, PLDT and Globe have a combined net income of 23.72 billion. “The point is, something needs to be done, and done very soon,” he said. “The problem is that government agencies that are supposed to monitor these telcos and help consumers don’t seem to feel the urgency of the situation.”
Slow Internet Connection in the Philippines Hinders ICT Growth
Bad Internet connection is a more pressing problem in the Philippines compared to poverty and corruption, according to a study released by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS).
In a discussion paper, PIDS Research Information Department Director Sheila Siar, Senior Research Fellow Jose Ramon Albert, and President Gilberto Llanto said this concern may have stemmed from the dependence of the country on the services sector, particularly the business-process outsourcing (BPO) industry.
The other “pressing problems” that made up the top five were agriculture and food security as well as energy provision and price.
“This [bad internet connection] is a big concern because the Philippines’s services sector owes much of its stellar performance to improvements in ICT, which was instrumental to the robust growth of the information technology-business process management (IT-BPM) industry,” the authors said.
“Poor quality service provided by Philippine telecommunication firms will create a significant hindrance to the continuous growth of the IT-BPM industry and of the services sector as a whole,” it added. The study stated that telephone services in the Philippines, in US dollars purchasing power parity cost $36.15 per month, which is the highest in the ASEAN.
In addition, mobile cellular services and fixed broadband services are priced at $22.24 (second highest) and $51.59 per month (third highest), respectively, based on data from the International Telecommunication Union. “Price, nevertheless, does not translate to quality service. Despite the high cost, Internet speed in the Philippines is among the slowest in the Asia-Pacific region,” the study stated.
So, while the internet penetration has improved in the past years in the Philippines, it is still a hindrance to the continued advancement of the ICT industry in the Philippines, which remains to be one of the industries predicted to have the highest growth in the coming years.
Internet Speeds Are Looking Up With the Entrance of New Players in the Industry
However, in recent years, the competition in telecommunications has started to expand, with international internet services coming in and offering faster internet speeds. The two forerunners, PLDT and Globe, are now expected to evolve and update their services to offer better prices and speeds in order to compete against newer competition, including Converge and DITO.