The Root Cause of Slow Internet Connection in the Philippines

Slow Internet Connection has become a major issue in the country to the point it has been one of the key issues raised in a recent Vice-Presidential debate. As more Filipinos use their mobile phones to connect to the worldwide web, the speed of mobile data transmission has become an issue to a great chunk of the population.  Many politicians are pinning blame to the telecommunication industry that has been dominated by two companies: the PLDT Group and Globe Telecom.  Recently, Globe Telecom held a press conference in Cebu to discuss the state of internet the country.

VP Candidates’ Thoughts on solving the Slow Internet Connection

In a recent Vice-Presidential debate, the issue of slow internet connection was raised and here are the responses of the candidates:

Leni Robredo: “Slow internet connection caused by lack of regulations, competition and infrastructure. Sa programa namin, aayusin natin ang regulation, competition para di na monopolize ng iisa.”

Antonio Trillanes:” Magtalaga sa NTC na hindi galing sa mga telcos.  Kailangan palawakin ang kompetisyon para magpagalingan sila sa service.”

Alan Peter Cayetano: “Telcos earned P50B and are controlling NTC.  Telco owners should not control the politicians. I and Mayor Duterte assure you that we won’t be controlled.”

Francis Escudero: “Hindi ito ginagastusan ng telco industry dahil kumikita sila sa text at call. Kapag mabilis ang internet, hindi na kayo tatawag.”

Gringo Honasan: “Let’s rationalize foreign competition among telcos. We need a single-platform system to prevent problems like dropped.”

Bongbong Marcos: “To improve Internet connectivity, let international service providers in. Competition is good for consumers.”

Most of the candidates point the blame on the lack of competition.  Last year, there was a strong interest of Australian firm Telstra to enter the highly profitable telecommunications industry.  They were supposed to partner with blue chip San Miguel Corporation in starting a new company.  Their plans were shelved a few months ago.

Globe’s Response to the issue of Slow Internet Connection

Globe Telecom Released the following press release:

Globe Telecom is currently expanding its network coverage and capacity in Cebu province across all technologies, including 3G & LTE,  as part of its commitment to continue building on its network infrastructure for a wider reach and faster internet experience of Filipinos nationwide.

The company’s capacity enhancement initiative involves deployment of the dual-beam antenna solutions, ideal in densely populated areas such as Cebu, to deliver enhanced capacity and coverage, significantly improving user experience. The solution, which will increase existing capacity by as much as 70%, will be deployed in a significant number of sites within the province, said Manny Estrada, Globe Senior Vice President for Network Technologies Strategy.

According to Estrada, Globe plans to enhance customer experience in the province by expanding its 3G and LTE coverage and capacity. In addition to these upgrades, Globe also intends to build new sites within the province as part of its continuing coverage and capacity expansion.

However, the realization of the company’s plan to build more cell sites depends heavily on the permitting environment in each local government unit concerned, he emphasized. He noted that similar to other areas in the country, the permitting environment is the biggest detriment preventing telecommunication operators like Globe in improving cell site density, a necessary prerequisite in improving data connectivity of its customers in terms of speed and access.

“Cebu is one of the more problematic areas for Globe in terms of building cell sites. Globe endeavors to build a digital nation, but we cannot achieve our goal, of providing faster data service while enhancing accessibility, in an environment that hinders rather than enable telcos like Globe to build the necessary infrastructure as quickly and as cost efficiently as possible,” Estrada said.  He said that telcos need to secure an average of 25 permits at the local government level to build a single cell site and this process takes at least 8 months to complete even before the necessary infrastructure can be built.

Last month, Globe revealed its plan of embarking on a massive infrastructure build aimed at enhancing network coverage for a wider reach and faster data experience of Filipinos nationwide.  The initiative is aimed at creating a nationwide data network that will drive economic competitiveness and growth.  Globe is able to aggressively upgrade capacities following the successful completion of its network modernization program initiated in 2011.

The company aims to create an internet super highway by deploying fiber optics in 20,000 barangays all over the country by 2020 to provide ultra-fast internet access to around 2 million homes nationwide.  Globe will also pour significant investment in capacity enhancement for both mobile and wireline using different technologies that include 3G, LTE and even Wi-Fi. At the same time, Globe is heeding the call to address the ICT requirements of enterprises as they expand their respective operations to Visayas, Mindanao and the Calabarzon regions.

WhyCebu.Com Analysis:

Based on the discussion during the press conference, this blog knows that the blame does not solely lie on the local telecom industry.  Our country is an archipelago and building a wireless infrastructure will cost a lot of money. Our country needs more cell sites for better coverage and faster connection speeds.  Do you know that before a company can build a cell site, it needs to secure around 25 permits from different branches of government? The companies need to secure permits from the DOTC, DOH, LGUs, and they even need to secure permission from local government units and subdivision associations. Normally, it will take around 6-8 months before they can complete one cell site.  

The Philippines has approximately 15,000 towers.  The figure might be many but this figure is small compared to our neighbors.  Malaysia has 22,000. Indonesia has 76.000. Bangladesh has 27,000.  The ideal figure for the Philippines is around 64,000 and it is more than 4 times of what we have right now. 

More competition is probably needed but the moment Sun was sold to PLDT-Smart, the entry of a new player will be so difficult and capital-intensive, because they will start from scratch meaning they need to build their own cellular towers at a turtle pace.  It will take years for a company to match the assets of the current players in the market. So, we Filipinos are left with slow internet connection.

So what’s the perfect solution? If the next president is really serious about this problem then the new administration could prioritize a bill that will streamline the process of constructing new cell sites. A government agency could even be tasked to identify and secure areas where companies can build their towers. If the government can make it easy for telecom players then probably competition will be encouraged to come to the country.  The Philippines is a country with a super high upside when it comes to mobile usage and it is highly probable that big foreign players would be interested in the income potential of the telecom industry.  Instead of simply blaming telecom companies, politicians need to study the problem and craft legislation that will hasten the pace of the development of our wireless infrastructure.  Hopefully, the Filipinos will not forget the problem of slow internet connection and they should remind the next set of leaders that this issue should be resolved as soon as possible.

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