By Winthrop Yu
When India zoomed past us in the last quarter of 2016, the Philippines was left languishing at the very bottom of Akamai?s State of the Internet Connectivity main rankings for the Asia Pacific region. But hasn?t Philippine Internet somewhat improved? How could we have fallen to last place in 2016?
There are always improvements. Increases in Internet speeds are naturally driven by advances in technology and the declining costs of international Internet transit. Thus, a country?s reported average Internet speed also reflects how efficiently ISPs in that country translate these improvements and savings into better quality and lower costs for its netizens.
As the Akamai table shows, the reason we are now in last place is because while other countries have kept pace with advancing technology, the Philippines hasn?t.
But how did India overtake us so quickly? It?s not that technological advances suddenly boosted Indian Internet speeds practically overnight, but rather that more people gained access to better quality Internet.
Perhaps more significantly, the Indian regulator TRAI?s own crowd-sourced speed tests show that, in response to the challenge posed by the new entrant, the previous incumbents likewise leveled-up. Competition is good for everyone.
Another notable Indian achievement is that this narrowing of the digital divide with even better quality Internet came soon after India?s regulator banned free Facebook and other violations of Net Neutrality. Thus, the Indians didn?t get a poor man?s version of access to only a part of the Internet — they got better access to all of the Internet.
We can only hope that our policy-makers and regulators will also learn from India?s successes. This is not too far-fetched. Over a short coffee chat, TRAI chairman R. S. Sharma indicated that he would be happy to share global best practices, as well as the Indian regulator?s experience and analyses, with their Philippine counterparts.
But the Philippines shows a 20% improvement in 1Q 2017, this is a bit of good news, isn?t it? Yes, so long as one bears in mind that the 20% improvement has nothing to do with mobile Internet or frequencies such as 700 MHz, as I explained in the first part of this article.
That 20% improvement in the main Akamai rankings has more to do with fixed wireline (DSL, fiber, etc.) in the Philippines. In order to double-check this, I turned to Measurement Lab?s data which shows the performance of various ISPs covering a period of about a year, starting at around the time of the last elections.
The M-Lab graph shows that while most ISPs are almost flat-lined across the bottom, one single ISP shows remarkable improvement. As in the recent Indian experience, it looks like a new and relatively unknown player is leading the charge for better Internet.
The author is the chair of Internet Society–Philippines
P.S. You don?t have to take my word for it, you can easily check-out M-Lab?s data for yourself — change the time period covered, add or remove ISPs, and slice-n-dice the data any which way you want, here.