The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us that access to the Internet and digital services can be a matter of life and death. Thanks to President Duterte, telco services got better after he threatened in his last State of the Nation Address to “close all telecommunication providers if services won’t improve by December.”
The President said Filipinos are not getting their money’s worth given the slow broadband services. He wants to see improvements in Internet speed before the end of his term.
“We heed the call of the President to improve our services,” Globe said in a statement. Despite the 500-percent increase in demand for broadband access at the beginning of the pandemic, the telcos successfully met the challenge.
The President managed to strengthen the telco sector by allowing a third major player to compete with incumbents Globe and Smart; ordering the local government units (LGUs) to fast-track the release of permits related to the rollout of telco infrastructure; and allowing telcos to ride on government’s Right of Way to improve nationwide Internet connectivity.
After the President’s order to speed up the issuance of LGU permits in July 2020, a “miracle” happened—permits that were hard to get before are now being issued in a jiffy.
In 2019, according to the National Telecommunications Commission, a total of 1,636 permits were issued for Smart, Globe and DITO. After the President’s order, the total surged to 6,451 permits issued in 2020. The trend continued: From January to April 2021, permits issued to telcos reached 2,789. The increase in permits issued resulted in an increase in towers built.
In 2019, the telcos built 1,746 towers. In 2020, the total surged to 4,337, a 148-percent increase year-on-year. In April 2021 alone, telcos built 1,672 towers. The country now has a total of 24,614 cellular towers: Globe has 10,941 towers; Smart has 10,433; and DITO has 3,240.
Telcos continue to invest in fiber optic network to improve services. In 2019, a total of 384,341 cable-kilometers of fiber network was laid-out all over the country. In 2020, the network surged to 726,705 cable-kilometers, an 89-percent increase. The 846,323 cable-kilometers laid-out as of April 2021 represent a 16.5-percent increase from the 726,705 cable-kilometers completed in 2020.
Smart currently has the widest network with 497,700 cable-kilometers of fiber optic built. Converge has laid out 260,030 cable-kilometers. Globe has 72,573 cable-kilometers, and DITO with 16,020 cable-kilometers.
With these developments, Ookla (the global leader in Internet testing, data and analysis) said Philippine fixed broadband speed now ranks 65th out of 180 countries, and 77th in mobile speed out of 137 countries. That’s a far cry from the country’s average download speed for fixed broadband ranked 103rd in November 2020, when we were also ranked 110th for mobile globally.
Out of 50 countries in Asia, our Internet speed is now ranked 17th for fixed broadband and 23rd for mobile. In Asia-Pacific, the Philippines ranked 14th for fixed broadband and 12th for mobile out of 46 countries.
In Asean, the Philippines is in the middle of the pack, ranking 5th in both fixed broadband and mobile.
Current telco infrastructure roll-out is expected to continue as more LGUs comply with the Joint Memorandum Circular signed by the Department of Information and Communications Technology, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Anti-Red Tape Authority, and other government agencies.
The NTC, PLDT, Globe, Converge and DITO also welcomed the Department of Public Works and Highways’ initiative to allow telcos to ride on the government’s Right of Way, which will help improve Internet connectivity throughout the country. This will speed up implementation of telco infrastructure projects, especially along national roads. In a world where digitization is being fast-tracked to meet challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, some quarters see the vast improvements in the country’s telco and Internet services as a Duterte legacy. They cited Ookla’s report on the latest fixed broadband download speed, which represents an improvement of 642.50 percent since the Duterte administration began on June 30, 2016. The latest mobile speed, they added, represents an improvement of 330 percent during the same timeframe.
The President may have used threat to make the telcos shape up, but he made sure that government also did its part to build a sturdy foundation for the telecommunications sector. Now they have the footing to compete and be at par with the elite group of Internet providers in the world, even after the President leaves Malacañang.