By Carlos Nazareno
In a position paper dated last June 24, the Philippine Chamber of Telecommunications Operators (PCTO) and the Philippine Association of Private Telecommunications Companies (PAPTELCO) made known their stand to regulatory body National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) that while its members finally agreed to have some performance metrics measured such as upstream and downstream volume, they did not wish the NTC to make publicly known the measurement results of individual ISP metrics.
What the telcos propose instead, is that only the averaged speed of the entire local ISP industry should be published by the NTC, and instead of the public knowing how their ISP actually performed, for the NTC to just talk with underperforming ISPs in private.
Aside from wanting to keep their official performance metrics hidden from the public, it is also the official stand of the members of PCTO that they are opposed to the measurement of metrics relating to their service reliability such as jitter (variations in the flow or timing of data packets) and packet loss (where the user or server data gets lost during transmission).
Initially they were also opposed to the measurement of ping or latency (the time it takes for the user’s data to reach the server and vice versa), but they have since amended their stance in that they will allow measurement of it, but only within their network.
Re-initiated by current Senate Committee on Trade, Commerce and Entrepreneurship chair Bam Aquino last year, there is an ongoing investigation in aid of legislation to solve the ongoing crisis where Internet in the Philippines has become one of the slowest and most expensive in the world; in a survey of 22 Asian countries by Ookla, the Philippines ranked almost dead last at #21 in average Internet speeds, with only war-torn Afghanistan being slower.
Since then, a series of Technical Working Group (TWG) meetings have been convened by the NTC at their head office in order to draft a Memorandum Circular (MC) to help address these concerns.
Present at the ongoing TWG meetings are private researchers, netizens and members of civil society, representatives from the telcos, NTC, the office of Sen. Aquino, and amidst concerns of deceptive advertising practices, also representatives from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Although discussions have been progressing at the TWG meetings these past months, certain issues reached an early impasse, such as the definition of minimum speeds that ISPs need to deliver in order to qualify as broadband.
In order to move forward, the members of the TWG had agreed to just implement as a first step the measurement of ISP performance metrics which can be used by regulatory, legislative, and judicial bodies as well as customers to evaluate how local ISPs is doing in terms of quality of service.
Among the ongoing plans being discussed is for the NTC to acquire and consolidate equipment and tools to measure service provider performance from a mixture of both known and blind measurement points at multiple sites.
While the ISPs are opposed to the inclusion of randomized blind measurement points as part of the official methodology, this is necessary so that ISPs will not be able to cheat and pre-optimize routes to known measurement points.
Also on the table with regard to measurements is the possibility of the creation of a downloadable tool that ordinary users could run in their home connections to do their own official measurements and be able to get objective results as the basis not just as proof for consumer complaints (for example, if an ISP did a “bait and switch” by giving good speeds during a trial period, then throttles user speed after), but also as a mechanism for ISPs to identify areas in which they can improve their service.
Even though there is some merit to the concern of PCTO members that smaller players who lease connectivity from larger ISPs will look bad by comparison and be adversely affected by the publication of results due to the network performance overhead cost of leasing connections, observers say they cannot help but feel that there is an element of bad faith by PCTO members in that they simply wish to avoid transparency, accountability, and public scrutiny with their latest statement.
Industry watchers are therefore hoping that the NTC will do the right thing and mandate in their upcoming draft Memorandum Circular that the official government results of local ISP be made public either through publication or by request in order to aid legislation and to better inform the public and perform its mandate of regulating the industries to bring Filipinos reliable infrastructure, affordable communications and accessible technologies.