The Senate’s public service committee headed by Senator Grace Poe is set to review the country’s internet connection status for the reopening of classes in August. The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), the regulatory board who has jurisdiction over telco companies and broadcasting firms, was criticized by Poe for their “incompetence” in handling the issue of local internet connectivity—a major concern of  employees whose work transitioned to a remote setup in response to the pandemic.

“Napaka-incompetent talaga ng regulator natin, I’m sorry to say, pero hindi lang naman yan sa administrasyon na ‘to. Marami diyan carry over from the past. ‘Yung NTC dapat talaga, yan ang inaatupag nila. Iba ang inaatupag e,” says Poe.

Poe notes that even the NTC experiences slow connection after an official wasn’t able to attend yesterday’s Senate hearing due to “technical issues”—which is telling of the country’s poor internet connectivity and telecommunications condition. Poe says her committee will instead direct telco companies to submit a monthly report of their current initiatives.

“Kahit hindi ito trabaho ng lehislatura pero dahil nga meron nga tayong malaking krisis ngayon at hindi natutugunan ng NTC ang kanilang trabaho, siguro kami na lang ang magpapa-report directly, monthly dito sa mga telecommunication company kung ano na yung kanilang nagagawa,” explains Poe.

Signal and data connection have always been a major concern here, especially in remote areas. In 2017, the Philippines’ internet connection was said to be the slowest in Asia Pacific. A work-from-home system, which many businesses have transitioned to, also face issues on internet connectivity. The business process outsourcing industry (BPO) is among the sectors that transitioned to a work from home setup and in a survey conducted by the BPO Industry Employees Network (BIEN), 77 percent of work-from-home employees shoulder their own internet costs while 54 and 20 percent did not receive internet allowance or work laptops, respectively. Among the challenges employees have to face include the lack of logistical assistance (such as delivery of equipment), longer working hours to compensate for “unproductivity,” unpaid wages due to poor or no internet connection, unjust sanctions due to technical problems and shouldering of internet and utility expenses.

The senator also attributes the country’s slow internet connectivity to the lack of cell towers. According to Poe, the Philippines only has less than 20,000 cell towers, compared to Indonesia and Vietnam who have 70,000 and 50,000 respectively. She also describes the process to put up cell towers as likewise dragging as it could take businesses eight months and 25 permits before it can fully install a cell tower. 

Under Republic Act 11032 or the Ease of Doing Business Act and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018, current systems and government services procedures will be streamlined to facilitate prompt actions and resolutions. As per Poe, the lengthy processing for cell tower installation should’ve been shortened already in accordance with the law. 

If many industries have become more reliant on digital platforms due to the crisis, then the government needs to figure out how internet connectivity can be made efficient across all sectors, and not just for those with the capacity to avail it. Aside from faster and better internet connection, the necessary tools must also be provided to the general public now that most economies today thrive on e-commerce and digitization. 

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