After getting flak for her comments in the Iglesia ni Cristo brouhaha, Sen. Grace Poe has turned her attention on the local ICT sector as she filed a resolution calling for a review of existing government infrastructure and investments in ICT sector.
“Such review is necessary so we may know exactly how the government can improve Internet connectivity throughout the country, and help boost and support the growth of the ICT industry,” Poe said.
Poe said the government may need to “upgrade and invest more in network infrastructure and services if it wants a greater number of Filipinos to have access to faster and cheaper Internet in the coming years.”
She noted that the government spent P1.6 billion last year and earmarked P3.18 billion this year to develop the ICT sector.
“Now, the government is moving to increase the budget for the ICT development next year with a proposed allocation of P4.37 billion in 2016,” Poe said in Senate Resolution No. 1562 that she filed on September 2.
In her resolution, the senator also acknowledged how the Internet opened up new possibilities for the fulfillment of the right to freedom of expression that is guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution and the international law.
The lawmaker said that even the United Nations recognizes Internet access as a human right, citing a 2011 report by the UN Human Rights Council emphasizing the “unique and transformative” nature of the Internet, which allows individuals to exercise a range of human rights and promote the progress of society as a whole.
Citing the UN report, Poe said the “Internet has become a key means by which individuals can exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
In fact, she said, the same UN report encourages governments to include Internet literacy skills in school curricula and support similar learning modules outside of schools.
According to the New York-based social media agency “We Are Social,” the Internet penetration in the Philippines stood at 36 percent in January 2014, with 38 million Internet users.
The study indicated that 32 percent of the country’s population is engaged in social media. Of the estimated 105 million Filipinos, 34 million were active Facebook users while there were 106 million active mobile subscriptions.
However, Poe said the problem of slow Internet connection in the country prevents Filipinos from “maximizing the benefits of the global information superhighway.”
“The Philippines has been lagging in terms of average Internet download speed globally and in the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region,” she pointed out.
Global Internet metrics provider Ookla ranked the Philippines as the second lowest average download speed among 22 Asian countries, with a speed of 3.64 Megabytes per second (Mbps), just well above war-torn Afghanistan with 2.52 Mbps.
The country also ranked 176th out of 202 nations worldwide in the Ookla household download index, which compares global download speeds over a period of 30 days (between April 18-May 17, 2015).
“The Philippines also has some of the most expensive Internet connections in the world. The study showed that Philippine Internet users spend $18.19 per Mbps, compared with an average of $5.21 per Mbps worldwide, placing the Philippines at 161th out of 202 countries in terms of Internet spending per Mbps,” Poe said.
The government, through the National Telecommunications Commission, recently set the minimum speed at 256 kilobits per second (Kbps), the standard rate of an Internet connection in the 1990s.
Despite this, Poe said the National Economic Development Authority claimed that “the current state of the Internet in the Philippines is what keeps the economy from growing further.”