2022 PH presidential race

Isko to better fund national broadband plan for faster, cheaper internet

Pia Ranada
Isko to better fund national broadband plan for faster, cheaper internet

PHILIPPINE INTERNET. Isko Moreno has plans to improve the country's internet, which is lagging behind many Asian countries.

Jacqueline Hernandez/Rappler

The DICT has asked for P18 billion to fully implement the National Broadband Plan. Isko Moreno wants to give it P45 billion.

If elected president, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno would ensure adequate funding to set up a government-owned national fiber optic network so that the Philippines could catch up with Asian peers with fast and affordable internet.

“I will redirect 10% of DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) infrastructure project, it will be directed to invest P45 billion to connect 7,700 islands, laying down fiber optics in our country,” he said on Tuesday, November 23, in Binangonan, Rizal.

“Everyone will be connected. The speed of connection will be competitive because if they can do it, the Philippines can do it also,” added Moreno.

He promised to deliver a “national fiber optic backbone” within the first two years of his presidency, should he win the government’s top post in May 2022.

Moreno wants the fiber backbone to connect all schools, government offices, law enforcement offices, and other agencies.

In a message to Rappler, Moreno clarified that the P45-billion budget he had mentioned pertained to his proposed one-year budget for improved national broadband as a whole, not just the fiber optic backbone component. The funds could come from a mix of public and private sector finance.

Filling in the gap

Inadequate funding for the National Broadband Plan (NBP) has been a perennial problem for the Duterte administration.

President Rodrigo Duterte, in his State of the Nation Address in 2020, called on the government and telecommunications companies to ensure faster internet nationwide. He approved the Department of Information and Communications Technology’s NBP in 2017.

Yet his budget department has consistently slashed proposed budgets for the plan.

The DICT wanted P13.4 billion for the NBP’s 2021 budget but ended up getting only P1.9 billion in the budget approved by lawmakers and Duterte.

The year before that, it had gotten only a little over P900 million. The DICT has said P18 billion would be the total amount needed to fully implement the NBP over three years, from 2020 to 2022.

Because of the lack of funding, the improvement in the country’s broadband infrastructure has largely been left to the private sector. But because profit-driven private firms have no incentive to expand such infrastructure in remote areas with tiny populations, these far-flung communities get left behind. The NBP aims to fill that gap.

“We should not leave the fate of our national ICT infrastructure to the private sector only. It is high time for a government-owned network that’s built even in remote communities, not based on their market viability, but with a mission to provide equal opportunity for all. We owe it to our people. We owe it to our children,” DICT Secretary Gregorio Honasan II said in a September 2020 department press release.

Moreno’s proposed P45-billion funding would be more than enough to cover the DICT’s current plans.

The 47-year-old presidential aspirant has a track record in using ICT to improve services for Filipinos. Manila recently won two first-place awards in the DICT’s 2021 Digital Governance Awards – one Best in Inter-Operability Award and one Best in Customer Empowerment Award.

Important for pandemic recovery

Moreno, on Tuesday, said that a robust broadband network is key to his plans for shepherding the Philippines toward economic recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

He thinks online learning will continue to be a component in the Philippine education system. Businesses in the country also continue rely more and more on internet-based services.

Better and more affordable internet connectivity would attract more businesses to set up shop in the Philippines, he said. Moreno previously vowed to introduce more government policies to spur the growth of the knowledge process outsourcing industry in the country.

“These are things where we invest but the return of this brings more jobs, brings more opportunity, brings more business,” said Moreno.

Telcos have reported a 500% increase in data usage since 2020, when pandemic lockdowns were first imposed, triggering an online shift for classrooms, businesses, and government transactions.

This has led to louder calls for faster, more reliable, and more accessible internet in the Philippines where internet speeds are much slower compared to peers like Singapore, Thailand, and Hong Kong.

Public investments of other countries in internet infrastructure far outstrip that of the Philippine government.

Indonesia provided the equivalent of roughly P112 billion for its 2014 to 2018 Broadband Plan while Vietnam spent around P39.7 billion for its 23,000-kilometer system submarine cable.

South Korea, home to one of the most enviable broadband systems in the world, spent the equivalent of P1.34 trillion in government funds for its 10-year Korean Information Infrastructure Project. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.