The government should pursue legislative reforms to achieve inclusive and accelerated digital connectivity in the country.
This was according to a study published by state think tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS). Authored by PIDS Senior Research Fellow Ramonette Serafica and Research Specialist Queen Cel Oren, the study examined the structure and elements of the information and communications technology (ICT) sector’s regulatory environment.
“A positive and significant improvement in ICT performance can be done through an effective framework, reforming the licensing regime, formulating the national spectrum policy, and reinventing the National Telecommunications Commission by establishing it as an independent regulatory agency,” the authors said.
Based on Ookla data, the average median download speeds for mobile and fixed broadband in the Philippines are 19.38 Mbps and 52.16 Mbps, respectively. This places the country’s ICT performance below that of its Southeast Asian neighbors at the same stage of development. Only Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and Viet Nam achieved download speeds faster than the 62.52 Mbps global average.
“Despite being a lower-middle-income country, the Philippines has the third most expensive ICT service across all the ICT price baskets among the ASEAN member states, impeding the use of various technological solutions available to bridge the gap in digital inequality,” the authors added.
With only 17.7 percent of households in the country with internet access, nearly four out of every five households are shut out of the digital economy.
The study also noted that the Philippines is the only country in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation region that requires interested companies to secure a legislative franchise before applying for a certificate to operate. Getting a legislative franchise takes about two to five years, during which “technology and market conditions may have already changed substantially” even before the companies start their operations.
Serafica and Oren emphasized the need to further remove the barriers to competition and take advantage of the innovation that comes from a deregulated market. This includes promoting investment in the ICT sector, allowing the entry of more industry players, and developing a functional ICT regulatory structure.
“To remain relevant and effective, the regulatory framework, composed of the institutions and specific regulations, needs to be updated to respond to changing technological and market conditions,” they said.
The authors acknowledged that the policy recommendations may not be new, especially with the existence of the Public Telecommunications Policy Act (RA 7925) and the Radio Control Law (RA 3846), but timely and proper implementation of the proposed reforms can help the country take advantage of the digital revolution, improve the quality of internet access, and help alleviate digital inequality.
“The Philippine digital economy needs forward-looking strategies or policies focusing on spectrum (such as 5G, International Mobile Telecommunications-2000, and satellite), internet of things, spectrum management, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence,” they added.
This press release is based on the PIDS discussion paper titled “Upgrading the ICT Regulatory Framework: Toward Accelerated and Inclusive Digital Connectivity”.