Senator Loren Legarda voiced out a common concern about unreliable and expensive Internet in the country. In a hearing of the Senate committee on trade, commerce and entrepreneurship, Legarda shared her frustration about poor Internet in her own home and office.
The committee aimed to find out why Internet connection in the Philippines is slow and expensive and investigate its impact on doing business in the Philippines, following a resolution filed by Senator Bam Aquino.
Legarda told the committee that she has been experiencing bad Internet connection in her Senate office despite having a separate broadband Internet connection. She said that her 3G Internet from her iPad device is also not helping.
"As we speak now, there is no Internet connection in my office… I received a message this morning from my staff on my way here because I may be emailing, etcetera, 'Ma'am, walang Internet.' And for someone whose deadline was yesterday, I always want things done fast and I'm sure many of you want that efficiency too to serve our people better," Legarda said.
"In my office or in my home, may WIFI and our service provider is PLDT DSL but I have an iPad and I subscribe to Globe and I'm on 3G, still Internet is either absent or excruciatingly slow which is so exasperating and frustrating. So can someone from the private sector or the government explain that?
"Despite that and all the shortcomings, ang mahal, mahal nang singil, bakit ganoon? Kung ang shortcoming o ang problema ay kasi kulang ng subsidy ang gobyerno, kasi outmoded ang batas, kasi ganito, e bakit mahal maningil ang service providers? Dapat iakma ninyo sa serbisyo ninyo," she said.
PLDT Smart Communications public affairs head Mon Isberto asked for the senator's account details to look into the problem.
But Legarda said that she already called up the PLDT herself and spoke to the company's technicians and has also brought this up with the company's "higher officials" but the problem was not solved.
Isberto surmised that there may be "physical problems" in the space that hinder access to Internet.
"It's very difficult for me to answer you at this point in time not knowing the facts of the case. So I could speculate as to there is a physical problem with here in the building regarding the lines. But I have to really have to take a look and check but if it's something that is affecting not just your office but other offices, then my suspicion would be in that direction," Isberto told Legarda.
IS CONGESTION THE PROBLEM?
"What is the most basic reason or common reason why we experience poor service?" Aquino asked the panel.
Congestion and inadequate infrastructure is being seen as a possible reason by the DOST.
"Congestion in part of the link and it could be due to oversubscription of the service," said Engineer Denis Villorente of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST)
"Meaning, hindi na kaya ng infrastructure 'yung load ng sistema. There are too may people accessing and the infrastructure itself is not enough, is that what you mean?" Aquino asked.
"Yes. Somewhere in the system, there is a congestion that's being experienced because a lot of people are accessing or generating traffic," said Villorente, pointing out that adding capacity could be a solution.
PLDT's Isberto said that a network may already have "more than adequate capacity" but still experience congestion in a specific area due to the volume of Internet usage at a specific time, for example in concerts where the usage may be heavy. He said that adding cell cites to "augment capacity" is a solution."
Globe's legal counsel Vicente Froilan Castelo said that telcos may also not be able to expand capacity in certain areas where they would not be allowed to do so, in exclusive villages, for example.
Globe nevertheless said that it has spent $700 million for the first phase of its 4G network, saying it is "gearing" towards making Internet faster and more reliable.
Globe said that "easing up" regulations of local governments could promote investments to expand and improve network.
Isberto said Smart is targeting to cover all towns and cities with 3G and HSPA network by the end of the year that could provide Internet speed of about 7.2 mbps. This is aside from rolling out its LTE network to cover 45-50% of the population by yearend to improve Internet speed.
The National Telecommunications Commission cited "positive developments" that could improve Internet speed such as the use TV white space or the unused channels in analog TV, the implementation of digital TV, and new ISP satellite service that would allow users to get Internet connection through satellites.
NTC is proposing that the NTC be allowed to retain fees that it collects and use it to develop fiber networks and fund broadband network infrastructure.
The committee also heard the bill filed by Senator Ralph Recto proposing to mandate Internet service providers and telecom companies to increase the minimum speed of their Internet service to 10 mbps.
Recto said that the Philippines has the slowest Internet speed in Southeast Asia with an average speed of 3.4 mbps.
Aquino cited studies that showed the Philippines as among the countries with the most expensive Internet.
In the meantime, Isberto said that a "general solution" for telcos is to add their capacities by building more cell sites.
"The only General solution for that is for the operators to keep investing in their networks, magdadagdag ng capacity doon sa kanilang cell sites or magdadagdag sila ng mga cell sites. Kasi halimbawa, napuno na ho 'yung isang cell site, 'yung capacity ay hindi na sapat para doon sa demand doon sa isang specific area, ang gagawin dapat diyan at yun naman ho ang ginagawa naming ay magdadagdag pa ho tayo ng cell site para madagdagan ho 'yung buong capacity doon sa area na 'yun," Isberto told reporters.
"Ibig sabihin, the companies involved ay kailangang magbuo ng kanilang financial resources at mag invest doon sa capacity na ito. At 'yun naman ho ang ginagawa ng PLDT Smart and Sun. Depende sa pangangailangan ng kanilang mga subscriber base ay dinadagdagan ho ng capacity. Wala hong ibang solusyon kundi 'yun ho."
Committee chair Bam Aquino plans to call more hearings on the matter to discuss other possible solutions, adding that the committee has asked the NTC to confirm if congestion is indeed main reason behind the slow speed of Internet.
"Kung congestion ito na once in a blue moon kunwari nagka-concert, nagka-congestion. Or may PBA game, for example, at may congestion then maybe 'yun you can say at that particular time baka mahina ang ating internet. But if it's a regular type of congestion, araw-araw mong nararanasan, that's something that has to be addressed regularly," Aquino told reporters.
A suggestion to amend the law to make Internet service a basic service from its current status as a value-added service is being looked into to allow government to exercise some of regulatory powers over it.
"That can be one of the laws that can be amended na gawin nating basic service ang Internet. It is already recognized as a human right and if we make it a basic service, at least pwede natin talaga bantayan kung paano ito ikalat sa mas maraming Pilipino at the right cost at the right service level," Aquino said.