Opinion | FoI and ICT policy reforms agenda

By Pierre Tito Galla

“Data! Data! Data!” he cried impatiently. “I can’t make bricks without clay.” — Sherlock Holmes in “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches”, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Without hard data and real information, proposing useful and coherent information and communications technology (ICT) policy is very difficult.

ICT advocates have long struggled to acquire relevant data and information that will help in the crafting of ICT policy reforms. We can’t make bricks to build, if the clay is not available.

What went before

Since 2012, and for some members even before then, Democracy.Net.PH has been participating in pushing for ICT policy reforms. From proposing a Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom before senators and representatives, to pushing for quality of service standards for broadband Internet connectivity in the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), Democracy.Net.PH has been pushing an ICT reforms agenda anchored on rights, governance, development, and security.

The road has been pretty rocky, of course, even if we limit our conversation to transparency and freedom of information.

In July 2015, the NTC issued Memorandum Circular 07-08-2015, “Rules on the Measurement of Fixed Broadband/ Internet Access Service”, more popularly known as the “measure and publish” MC by ICT advocates. This MC was supposed to measure the quality of service of the various wired broadband service providers (PLDT, Globe Telecom, Converge ICT, Sky Broadband, and others).

In Part D, “Publication of Results of Monitoring and Measurements”, paragraph 1 specified that the results of monitoring and measurements “shall be posted in the Commission’s website not later than five (5) days from the end of each month and shall be released to the media. Results of the tests shall be made available to the public upon request.”

A check of the NTC website shows that no data about the results of measurement has been posted since August 2015. A comprehensive search of mass media covering a similar period has yielded no records about any NTC MC 07-08-2015 data tables being published in detail.

That’s just one missing data set that would have been helpful in crafting ICT reforms proposals. There is a lot of government information essential to coherent policy-making that is missing, difficult to request, or practically impossible to access. However, all is not lost.

A 2016 Executive Order

In July 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 2, series of 2016, “Operationalizing in the Executive Branch the People’s Constitutional Right to Information and the State Policies to Full Public Disclosure and Transparency in the Public Service and Providing Guidelines Therefor” – a mouthful that we know as the “EO for FOI”, for “Freedom of Information”.

Since then, information that was previously grueling to access is now less difficult to request. The eFOI online request portal of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) is an excellent initiative.

Paralleling the legacy process of requesting paper documents through paper letters, the eFOI initiative is a website where citizens can now go to ask for data from various government agencies and offices; now, ICT advocates now have some access to some data that will help push for ICT reforms.

It was through an eFOI request that Democracy.Net.PH was able to get the latest data on spectrum assignment information that we now know that the duopoly has control over 100% of 2G frequencies, and thus a clear example of why we need spectrum management reform now. (Spectrum management reform was discussed in a previous column.)

While eFOI is a welcome development, there is still much to improve in implementing freedom of information for citizens, especially through the use of the Internet. There are things that government said it would do but has not done, that government is doing but not quite well, and that government has not yet even considered doing.

Next?

In July 2013, then-President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III issued Administrative Order NO. 39, which said that the National Digital Service Coordinating Group (NDSCG) is responsible for the issuance of the Philippine Uniform Website Content Policy (UWCP) and its implementing rules and regulations.

Now a function under the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) under the Integrated Government Philippines (iGovPhil) Program, there are website templates that can be downloaded from the Government Web Hosting Service (GWHS) page for government agencies to use and implement.

However, there isn’t a set of requirements and guidelines listing minimum required content, particularly for completeness of content and functionality that would support for FOI, such as downloadable issuances, data and resources, maps and tables, and so forth. The DICT and iGovPhil should ramp up efforts to make this happen, in collaboration with the PCOO.

But even if government websites already have their websites compliant with the UWCP, it is another matter altogether to have data of public interest available to access.

As mentioned earlier, proper implementation since August 2015 of the NTC “measure and publish” memorandum circular should have resulted in data about wired broadband and Internet connectivity speeds published on the NTC website – and there isn’t any. We need to know if the NTC implemented the MC and what the results are. An adage from school applies, “if you don’t submit your homework, you didn’t do it all.”

The big picture is that the government should adopt technology in a sensible way, for it to be practical and useful for citizen use, and not fail to implement its use properly and promptly.

Last Valentine’s Day, the House of Representatives Committee on ICT discussed a bill filed by Rep. Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte Jr. of Camarines Sur, House Bill 262, “An Act Establishing the e-Government, Defining its Powers and Functions, Appropriating Funds Therefor, and for Other Purposes”, and an important point was brought up: that the Philippines must craft its Government Enterprise Architecture policy.

More on government enterprise architecture later.

The author is the co-founder and co-convenor of Democracy.Net.PH

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