‘Expensive, mediocre’ internet: Inquirer | The Straits Times

MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the country’s adoption of digital technologies – from work-from-home arrangements to financial transactions to shopping for basic needs.

The internet is undoubtedly the single biggest component to a successful transition to a technology-dependent “new normal” after this health crisis. Unfortunately, for the Philippines, we still lag too far behind in terms of consumer satisfaction with internet services.

Current services have come a long way for perhaps a decade, with telecom companies (telcos) bragging about how fast their internet speeds are now, based on widely used test facilities like web service provider Ookla.

However, a Netherlands-based subsidiary of Nord Security released a global study last week that ranks countries on what they call “digital wellbeing”. Surfshark’s latest Digital Quality of Life Index (DQL) report shows that the country has fallen to 55th place in the overall ranking of 117 countries – from 48th place last year. The Philippines is among the countries with the “least affordable” internet services, but consumers only get “mediocre” connection quality.

This assessment is based on what Surfshark calls the five fundamental pillars of digital life, including internet affordability, which is the weakest point of the Philippines as they rank 98th in the world. “Residents in the Philippines can buy 1 GB (gigabyte) of mobile internet for just 4 minutes and 51 seconds of work per month,” the report said. “However, compared to Israel, which has the cheapest mobile internet in the world (5 seconds per 1GB), Filipinos work 59 times more.”

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For fixed broadband connections, Filipinos have to commit 11 hours and 5 minutes a month just to pay for it. Compared to Israel, where internet packages cost 19 minutes of work a month, the study says Filipinos work 34 times more. “Since last year, broadband internet has become less affordable in the Philippines, requiring people to work six hours and four more minutes to afford fixed broadband internet service,” the study points out, noting that global inflation is increasing led to rising prices for broadband services.

Meanwhile, the Philippines ranks 45th in internet quality, which takes into account internet speed, stability and growth. “Internet quality in the Philippines is comparatively mediocre, and on a global scale, fixed broadband internet is better than mobile,” says Surfshark. The country’s fixed broadband internet speed is 75.1 megabits per second (Mbps) and 38.7 Mbps for mobile internet. However, the DQL study finds that fixed broadband and mobile Internet speeds have improved by 52.2 percent and 33 percent, respectively, since last year.

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“In comparison, Singaporeans enjoyed mobile speeds of up to 104 Mbps and up to 261 Mbps on landlines — the world’s fastest internet this year,” it said. Of course, many will wonder why the study compares local internet services to those of Israel and Singapore, which have the best in the world.

But shouldn’t that be the claim of local telecoms to be among the best? World-class athletes don’t train hard to finish second or third in competitions. And this isn’t the first time we’ve heard insights and criticisms about the poor but expensive telecom services we have.

During the pandemic, when distance learning had to be implemented, complaints grew about teachers and students struggling or even not getting an internet connection, especially in provinces where telecom services have traditionally lagged behind. Didn’t ex-president Rodrigo Duterte also complain about their bad service? Weeks before taking office in 2016, Duterte challenged the telecoms duopoly of PLDT/Smart and Globe Telecom to deal with “slow and expensive” internet services in the country or face a regime that would ease the entry of big foreign players.

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Addressing a joint session of Congress four years later, Duterte again chided the telecommunications companies for their bad service and threatened them with government expropriation. The entry of a third telecom company, ostensibly to offer consumers an alternative, has not delivered the promised result.

Consumers and lawmakers to this day bemoan the country’s dismal but expensive internet services. Telcos really owe it to their subscribers to disclose their plans to improve their services, considering the new normal will be heavily dependent on technology.

At the end of the day, all those ultra-fast speed tests that telcos brag about will be for naught if their services don’t reach the masses at prices that common people like teachers and ordinary workers can afford. Telcos need to work harder – and invest more – to lower the cost of their services and extend their reach. They’re not being asked to catch up with Israel or Singapore, they just have to close the really big gap.

  • The Philippine Daily Inquirer is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 news media outlets.

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