The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) reiterated the need for a government-owned broadband network to improve Internet quality, coverage and affordability during the DICT’s Budget Hearing held by the Senate Committee on Finance on October 6, 2020.

The Department appealed to the Senate, and earlier to the House of Representatives, for an increase in its 2021 budget. The DICT is requesting an additional budget of around 18 billion pesos for the completion of the government’s own broadband network through the National Broadband Program (NBP).

Senator Imee Marcos supported the DICT’s call for additional budget for the NBP, citing other countries’ success in improving Internet services through a national broadband network.

“Until today, the government has not invested in ICT unlike the other countries in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) where it is nationally and publicly owned, we are entirely reliant on commercial investment. And then we complain when they fall apart or they fail us or they are expensive and raise rates wantonly when in fact they don’t belong to us,” Senator Marcos explained.

“I would like to support some augmentation for the DICT (budget) given that the only jobs available are online. Our entire educational system is reliant on the online capacities and even the senate is depending only upon our Internet,” Senator Marcos added

National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba reiterated the need for a government owned broadband network.

“In all other countries, talaga pong gumagastos ang government sa national broadband. Ang nangyayari po sa ibang bansa ay ang gumagastos po at nagpapatayo ng infrastructure at ang gumagastos po ng capital expenditure ay ang government. And all the telcos ay nagle-lease lang po from the national government. That is the model that is being used in other countries kaya po medyo maganda ang service nila. Wala po silang problema sa right of way at wala rin po silang problema sa mga permits because it is the national government that is doing all of that,” Commissioner Cordoba added.

South Korea, one of the countries in the world with the fastest Internet, is a model country for those who aspire to improve their Internet connectivity. In 1995, the government of South Korea initiated the Korean Information Infrastructure Project – a 10-year program that started with laying internet infrastructure between government buildings. The government allocated 32 trillion won (27.6 billion United States (US) dollars or 1.34 trillion pesos) to build a national broadband backbone network, mainly through optical fibre cables. Through said project, South Korea was able to roll out country-wide broadband by 1998. In 1995, South Korea had only one Internet user for every one hundred citizens, but by year 2002, the country had increased this to around 55 Internet users per hundred citizens.

Neighboring countries like Indonesia and Vietnam also allotted substantial government investments in Internet and broadband infrastructure. In Indonesia, the 2014-2019 Indonesia Broadband Plan required a total funding of 23.2 billion US Dollars (1.12 trillion pesos), 10 percent of which was covered by the state budget. Meanwhile, Vietnam allocated 820 million US dollars’ (39.7 billion pesos) worth of investment on a 23,000km system submarine cable.

Other countries like Australia and New Zealand allocated around 37 billion US dollars (1.79 trillion pesos), and 1.19 billion US dollars (58 billion pesos), respectively, for their own national broadband network. 

The 2021 National Expenditure Program (NEP)-approved budget for the DICT’s NBP is only at 902 million pesos.

The DICT said it is high time for the government to prioritize ICT programs as the country transitions to the new normal.

“We accept the fact that the appreciation of the government sector for ICT being the future is still limited. Ang gusto po kasi is iyong nahahawakan – iyong tulay, iyong kalsada, iyong physical. That’s the infrastructure component. But from where we see it, we believe that we can actually do these simultaneously,” DICT Secretary Gregorio B. Honasan II said.

[We accept the fact that the appreciation of the government sector for ICT being the future is still limited. More priority is given to those which can be felt – roads, bridges – those that are physical. That’s the infrastructure component. But from where we see it, we believe that we can actually do these simultaneously.]

DICT Assistant Secretary for Digital Philippines Emmanuel Rey Caintic explained that the completion of the NBP will result to cheaper and better Internet service quality. He said Internet in the country is expensive because telecommunications companies spend much capital in building ICT infrastructure to deliver Internet services.

“Kung gagawa po tayo ng fiber backbone – first mile, middle mile – doon tutuhog ang mga tore ng mga telco. So hindi lang dadami—mumura… Kaya po mahal (ang Internet) kasi ang mahal po iyong paglatag pa po ng fiber kung saan magkakaroon ng tore. So kung ang government po ang maglalatag ng fiber – so ang Smart, Globe, DITO, doon na lang sila kakabit sa ating mga fiber. Tapos doon din sila magdi-distribute to the residential. We do not wish to compete with the private sector market. Pero as the government, maganda po kung the SUF (spectrum users fee) that the telcos paid to us, we will re-invest it in creating the digital infrastructure,” he explained.

[If we are to build a fiber backbone – first mile, middle mile – this is where towers can be linked. So, towers will not only increase in number, but Internet price will also become cheaper. Internet is expensive because the deployment of fiber where towers will be linked is similarly costly. So, if the government is to deploy fibers – so Smart, Globe, DITO can connect to our fibers and distribute (Internet) to the residential. We do not wish to compete with the private sector market. Butas the government, it will be beneficial for us if the SUF (spectrum users fee) that the telcos paid to us, we will re-invest it in creating the digital infrastructure.]

Senator Panfilo Lacson, Vice Chairperson for the Senate Committee on Finance, expressed his support for the immediate completion of the NBP.

“Backbone na ng economy ito. Kasi in this day and age of modern information technology, wala tayo talagang reason na hindi mag-catch up or to be at par with the neighboring countries considering na iyong investors, titignan din nila (Internet),” Senator Lacson said.

[This is the backbone of the economy. In this day and age of modern information technology, we have no reason to not catch-up or be at par with the neighboring countries considering that investors look at Internet speed (as among the factors considered for investment).]