The Better Broadband Alliance (BBA), a coalition of various ICT-related organizations and business groups, has called on the government to create a comprehensive action plan to address the various connectivity issued bogging the country with the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a statement issued on Monday, April 6, the BBA said resolving the “huge gap in digital connectivity in the homes and areas outside of urban areas” is now a paramount concern as the “importance of telecommunications and Internet services becomes more apparent”.
“Thus, we call on the Inter-agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), through the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), to create a national strategy and plan of action to address various issues related to communications and data services, which are important survival tools in an emergency, such as the one we are facing now,” the BBA said through its convenor Grace Mirandilla-Santos.
The group said creating a digital framework in the soonest possible time is the only way in which the country can have a “widespread and robust digital infrastructure” that can serve as “the key to economic recovery and future security” in the long term.
The following are the BBA’s recommendations for the IATF and the DICT.
For Immediate Response:
- 1. Request all telecommunications companies (telcos) and Internet service providers (ISPs) to provide more bandwidth to citizens and institutions by lifting the data cap and/or extending the validity periods of mobile data plans to prevent people from leaving their homes to top up on credit load in the midst of the ECQ. Encourage upstream service providers to create “temporary” bandwidth increase packages for their ISP clients to enable the latter to provide more bandwidth downstream to their end-users. Alternatively, provide beneficiary sites with additional funds for upgrading their subscription to higher-tier bandwidth plan or to request additional network facilities from an ISP, if deemed necessary for emergency response.
- 2. Provide a hotline for telecommunications and data service personnel, contractors, and suppliers, both from the government and the private sector, who will encounter any difficulties at various checkpoints. Secure an IATF ID for essential personnel, contractors, and suppliers, as necessary, in order to ensure that maintenance, repair, and other critical functions for data and communication networks remain unhampered.
- 3. Encourage the new installation of telecom and broadband facilities to provide additional capacity and coverage, such as but not limited to “Cell site on Wheels” or mobile base stations, especially in areas within close proximity to designated Covid-19 hospitals and isolation/quarantine sites, as identified by the IATF, the Department of Health (DoH), and the local government units (LGUs). Released 6 April 2020
- 4. Prioritize and fast-track the deployment of Free Public Wi-Fi to include essential institutions such as hospitals, supermarkets, pharmacies, and barangay halls, that provide important and emergency services to the community.
- 5. Create and maintain a database and network map, in collaboration with the private telcos and ISPs, of communities where telecommunication and Internet services are most needed and/or interrupted. Develop a contingency plan with specific measures in case telcos and ISPs fail to deliver services in a particular area due to the ECQ.
- 6. Inform the government and the public of cyberattacks and threats by issuing up-to-date advisory on cybersecurity, especially in a work-from-home and online-learning environment, and amid increased online activities as a result of the ECQ.
- 7. Organize a communication platform, such as in the form of videoconferencing, to provide realtime technical support and/or cybersecurity assistance to essential government agencies and the LGUs who may experience problems with their communication and data networks and ICT systems.
- 8. Support and enable a DoH Covid-19 database that will collect, track, analyze, and report data on Covid-positive cases, persons under investigation (PUI), and persons under monitoring (PUM), presented on a local level, in real time. One option is to provide an electronic platform for all Covid-19 hospitals to submit their situation report to the DoH, which will enable fast and efficient collection and reporting of data.
- 9. Include the tracking of telecommunications and Internet services in the Bayanihan Accomplishment Report.
For Urgent Follow-up Action:
- 10. Explore alternative means/ technologies to provide temporary communication and Internet services in areas that traditional providers do not reach. Allow different types of service providers, network design, and business models in unserved and underserved areas, such as community networks and mesh networks.
- 11. Review government rules and processes that may be relaxed in order to maximize the use of online resources during an emergency (e.g., validity of electronic documents for government transactions; option to submit official documents online).
- 12. Pro-actively pursue an “online-first” e-government policy that will enable government, businesses, and citizens to transact using digital platforms as the default, and physical or face-to-face transactions as the exception. This policy should give priority to critical services such as health, and essential services in key sectors such as education, finance, and trade and industry that affect the economy and people’s daily lives.