Advocates of the Open Access in Data Transmission Act (OADTA) are asking policymakers to immediately pass this major legislation, which is expected to improve the country’s broadband connectivity, a crucial catalyst to economic growth in the digital era.
Better Internet PH has again pushed for the passage of the stalled bill that will allow telecommunications companies (telcos) and internet service providers (ISPs) to install broadband networks without the need for a congressional franchise.
The OADTA—of which eight House bills have been filed as of November 11, 2022—intends to address the ills of existing laws and expand and improve broadband infrastructure in the country, the advocacy group said in a November 14, 2022 letter to the Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc. (PHILEXPORT) requesting renewed support for the campaign.
“Outdated laws and regulations, designed for analog telephone and radio broadcast, have stifled the growth of Philippine Internet,” said Better Internet PH in its letter.
The ability to upgrade digital connectivity is crucial to ensure continued economic growth for the country. A 2021 Google report forecasts that Philippine e-commerce alone “can raise PHP 5 trillion in economic value by 2030,” said Better Internet.
The nation’s poor digital infrastructure was starkly highlighted during the pandemic when the worldwide use of digital technologies was accelerated to enable trade and commerce to continue amid restrictions and lockdowns.
Under OADTA, both telcos and ISPs are allowed to own, construct, and install their own broadband networks even without a congressional franchise, and this will make the Internet more accessible, affordable, and reliable anywhere in the country.
The call for the law’s enactment comes as the Philippines remains the laggard in ASEAN, trailing in download speeds and having one of the most expensive connections in the region and the world, noted the group.
The country’s median fixed broadband speed is 75.62 Mbps, less than the regional average of 103.39 Mbps, it added, citing July 2022 data from Ookla’s Speedtest. Fixed broadband subscription is limited to 7.24 per 100 people, while the ASEAN average is 10.2. The average monthly cost of broadband packages in the country is US$44.19, placing it ninth out of the 10 countries in ASEAN in terms of the cheapest packages.
In the absence of any broadband law, the country applies the Public Telecommunications Policy Act of 1995 (Republic Act No. 7925)—a law designed for telegraphs and landlines—to govern broadband networks. The current restrictive policy and regulatory environment has prevented capable industry players from participating in expanding the country’s digital infrastructure, Better Internet added.
Latest data show that the Philippines has about 370 existing ISPs, mostly cable TV operators that also offer Internet services. However, as non-telcos, they cannot expand Internet infrastructure beyond the geographical areas designated by their cable TV license.
The OADTA aims to remove these restrictions while also addressing efficiency and cost issues in the rollout of broadband networks and promoting better management of spectrum for wireless Internet connectivity.
“Every day without Open Access is another day that the Philippines remains chained to outdated rules, preventing us from truly adapting to the digital world of today,” said Better Internet.
For its part, PHILEXPORT already sent last year a position letter to the House of Representatives stating full support for the Open Access Law, saying the legislation would help close the broadband infrastructure gap and facilitate recovery.
“The policy and regulation we use for Internet connectivity are anchored on analog-era fixed telephone and radio broadcast services. It is indeed high time that we pass laws that reflect how people connect and communicate in the Digital Age,” PHILEXPORT said.
If passed, the law would encourage the private sector to build the “arterial road,” or the so-called middle mile, leading to the communities and allowing the provision of free public Wi-Fi connectivity or commercial Internet service.
Another benefit seen is how it would institutionalize infrastructure-sharing and the streamlining of permits and regulatory requirements, removing a major stumbling block to the rollout of broadband networks.
The regulation would likewise promote the use of any technology, such as mobile, wired, wireless, satellite, and other internet technologies, by qualified providers.
Finally, it would provide a consultative mechanism for distributing and managing spectrum for Internet use to ensure that more communities, and not just the highly commercial or urbanized areas, would benefit from wireless connectivity, PHILEXPORT said.