September 13, 2020 (9:39 PM)

6 min read


CONNECTING. ICT researcher Angelo Niño Gutierrez along with the other dignitaries from the different sectors impacted by the shift to online learning, talk about the situations of different regions in the Philippines with regards to internet connection, urging the modification of policy regulations to provide a stable internet in the country during the Pakighinabi Connect Mindanao organized by ADDU SAMAHAN. Screenshot taken from @WinGatchalian74 Twitter page

Angelo Niño Gutierrez, an independent information and communications technology (ICT) researcher, suggested in an online forum the use of satellites to cover wide internet reach for the whole country urging the government to update “outdated” internet policies last Friday.

Unlike fiber-optic internet and towers which need underground digging, permits and infrastructures, he said satellites that are able to serve remote and “geographically-challenged” areas in the country are “already in the sky”, and need only minimal ground infrastructure.

Gutierrez said in an archipelagic country like the Philippines, satellites are a “cost-effective solution” that will cater to areas even with low population density, adding satellite dish is cheaper than a single cell site.

“Ang benefit po talaga of using [it] is no matter how far or no matter how difficult the terrain or how remote you can always send a signal as long as you can see the sky,” he said.

Also a researcher for Secure Connections, a cybersecurity project of The Asia Foundation-Philippines, Gutierrez cited countries that use satellites for various purposes.

Satellites are used in India for telemedicine, where doctors use ICTs to exchange information for patient diagnosis, among others; in Indonesia for financial banks; and in Thailand for distance learning.

“Right now, only companies with Congressional franchise and other licenses from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) are allowed to use satellites,” he said.

He said that in practice, this meant only dominant telecommunication companies, which only run “conventional terrestrial technology” business (fiber and towers), are allowed to do so.

“(But) they’re heavily invested in mobile cellular, so they don’t use satellites for broadband,” he said, “how about those businessmen who want to offer ISPs for students in his locality, he won’t be allowed.”

Obsolete policy regulations and interpretations need to be updated to bring investment in the digital infrastructure and empower more players to connect the unserved areas, he said.

Executive Order (EO) No. 467 Section 1 (a) states that “Enfranchised telecommunications entities duly authorized by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to provide international telecommunications services shall be allowed direct access to all international fixed satellite systems…”

The EO, implemented in 1998 during Fidel Ramos’ presidency when mobile internet was not yet popular, disabled ISPs to maximize the use of internet resources in the country, according to Gutierrez.

Gutierrez then emphasized the need to modify the policy regulations to assure a stable internet connection in every place of the country. 

“We need to revise our policy to allow (ISPs) to build networks using satellites to connect underserved areas,” he added.

Inadequate broadband infrastructure

According to the results of National ICT Household Survey last July, Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) is the top region with the highest percentage of barangays without access to both telecommunications tower and fiber-optic cable at 87.2 and 99.1 percent, respectively.

Although the Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT) launched its “Free Wi-Fi for All” program, 87.8 percent of barangays in the country still do not have free Wi-Fi connection. Meanwhile, 70.2 percent do not have fiber and 63.7% do not have towers.

While he applauds the DICT program, he said this is not enough, adding people should not expect the government to be able to cater to everyone in a short amount of time.

He said the root problem lies in the country’s laws which prevent new technologies, infrastructures, and businesses that can cater to remote areas.

“We need to be creative, we need to step up, we need to be able to address the problem of internet connectivity now, not tomorrow or next year, we need to be able to use whatever means available in order to do that,” he said.

Other reactions

Meanwhile, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, Chairperson of Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts & Culture and Senate Committee on Energy, apologized for the government’s lack of action on the internet problem.

Gatchalian added that the Senate has allotted 3 billion pesos for the development of State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) into smart campuses. The Department of Education (DepEd) has also allotted 4 billion pesos for the digital education program.

According to Gatchalian, these funds were intended for the online resources needed for each student.

Gatchalian says that they just need a little more time to implement it until students can see the effects of its implementation.

Atty. Mark H. Layog, Chief of Staff of the Vice Mayor Sebastian Duterte, said they are prioritizing the permits on the construction of cell site towers, but said it is a lengthy process.

Mr. Alimbzar Asum, DICT Regional Director for Region XI, XII, and BARMM admitted having limited funds, when asked where Mindanao stands in terms of technological capacity in pursuit of the advocacy.

“(DICT) has the best engineers and the best strategies, all we have to do is adapt to the best practices other countries have, but the thing is we only have limited funds,” he said.

Asum added that among ASEAN countries, the Philippines is the only country that did not invest in ICT.

He said that last year, DICT proposed a 62 billion budget for 2020, but only received 6 billion which is only good for maintenance and payment for employees and for attached agencies.

He said they are proposing another budget which will help address the problem of internet connectivity.

Student struggles

Zacara Lastimado, an Education student and Lumad scholar, asked help from the officials present in the forum to address the internet connectivity struggles in their area as her co-Lumad stayed in the cities to access the internet.

“Some of the Lumad students in my place are currently staying in cities because of the lack of internet stability… The least that I can do is to ask you [government officials], with regard to the question we have on remote areas in the Philippines and the providence of opportunities to other Lumad students experiencing the same struggles,” said Lastimado.

Meanwhile, Ruby Therese Bangunan, president of Ateneo Lumad Student Organization, shares her online learning struggles as well as the experiences of her two co-Lumad students living in the mountain.

“I live in Marilog, and we have towers of Globe, Smart, and TM. Despite this, I have difficulty in accessing different applications needed for my classes…It is time consuming to upload the formative assessments, kasi ubos na ang (megabytes) ko kasi mahina ang internet connection sa place ko,” shared Bangunan.

“There are two students living in the mountains of Malita. These two students live alone in their houses which makes their situation more difficult and they fear that they cannot join classes because they do not have internet connection. Some of my fellow Lumad students have stopped going to school due to lack of resources,” she added.

The student-led Pakighinabi forum on Philippine Internet Democracy was led by the Samahan ng mga Mag-aaral ng Pamantasan ng Ateneo de Davao (SAMAHAN) Central Board, aiming to educate community stakeholders on Internet Democracy and discuss the present Internet reality of the Philippines.

End the silence of the gagged!

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