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Telcos need to address slow internet speed for distance learning in provinces

Senator Win Gatchalian urged more wholesale bandwidth providers to enter the provincial market to improve the speed of internet service for distance learning.


SURIGAO CITY, SURIGAO DEL NORTE, Philippines – Students attend class at the IT laboratory of Surigao State College of Technology, southeast of Manila, 30 Sept 2015 file. With Bayanihan 2 to address the challenges of recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, Senator Gatchalian urged telco stakeholders to hasten infrastructure build up in order to improve the speed of internet service for distance learning especially in the countryside. Photo by Mark Cayabya/OS WIN GATCHALIAN

Gatchalian made the call after telecommunications companies in the provinces revealed during Wednesday’s Public Services Committee hearing that they can only provide 2 megabits per second (Mbps) up to 20 Mbps of internet speed, way below the average for live events. The minimum speed for streaming video is at least 3 Mbps.

This raised concern to Gatchalian in the wake of the scheduled school opening on October 5, when the country’s estimated 28 million learners would begin to take lessons online.

“When school opens on October 5, we have a total of 27.9 million learners – 24.5 million kinder to senior high school and 3.4 million in the tertiary level — expected to depend on internet connectivity.  We can anticipate internet congestion especially during peak hours when most, if not all, are online for their distance learning,” said Gatchalian.

“Small players, who in effect act as resellers to their subscribers, need to buy more bandwidth from the service providers. It could even bring down the high cost of internet service,” the senator added.

Gatchalian also took note of the lack of digital infrastructures in the provinces.

Currently, there are 17,850 existing cell sites in the Philippines according to the 2019 3rd Quarter Report by TowerXChange, an informal network advisor in the market tower industry worldwide. But the country, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) recently said, needs at least 50,000 additional cell towers to improve services.

“While we cannot address this overnight, considering the infrastructure gap in this issue, there’s still a solution in sight to address the clamor for improved telecommunication services as we struggle in adapting to the new normal,” Gatchalian pointed out.

He was referring to the provision in the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2 which gives telcos a three-year window to construct cell towers sans the issuance of close to 40 permits from concerned national agencies and local government units (LGUs).

Except for the building permit, Bayanihan 2 temporarily suspends for three years the requirements to secure other permits and clearances for the construction of telecommunications and internet infrastructure.

Gatchalian urged stakeholders to take advantage of the said suspension of the documentary requirements and permits in building cell towers.

“Walang hindi makikinabang kung bibilis na ang internet connectivity dito sa atin. Mula bata, na ngayon ay nakadepende na sa distance learning, hanggang sa pinaka simpleng pangangailangan natin – food deliveries, bills payment at kung anu-ano pa – lahat pwede mo nang magawa online. Sana samantalahin ng mga telcos ang pagkakataon na binibigay sa kanila ng batas,” he said.