The Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc. (PHILEXPORT) showed full support anew for the swift passage of the Open Access in Data Transmission bill, saying the legislation will help close the broadband infrastructure gap and facilitate recovery amid the pandemic.
This as the draft bill, filed as House Bill (HB) No. 8910 in the Lower House and as Senate Bill (SB) Nos. 45 and 911 in the Senate, remains pending as of last month.
Mary Grace Mirandilla-Santos, a telecom and ICT policy research analyst, in a recent online presentation said that as of June, HB 8910 has been approved on second reading with amendments and is expected to hurdle third and final reading this month. SB 45 and 911, on the other hand, have been referred to the Science and Technology Committee and await hearing.
In her talk, Santos said that after 25 years, Internet access, quality and affordability remains a huge problem especially in the countryside due to a broadband infrastructure gap that persists, owing to legal obstacles in outdated laws that prevent the growth of Philippine Internet.
She further said that the broadband infrastructure gap is seen in the lack of players putting up towers and other broadband networks, the lack of flexibility in pricing, the large swathes of unserved and underserved areas, and the limited capacity for rollout of broadband networks.
The proposed Open Access Act seeks to address these legal obstacles that effectively put up a high entry barrier to competition and promote costly and inefficient network rollout, she said.
This will be achieved through the establishment of an open access framework that will, among others, ensure new entrants are able to enter markets with high barriers to entry, create competition in all layers or segments of the network, separate physical infrastructure from services, and allow anyone to connect to anyone using any technology.
PHILEXPORT had earlier also pointed to the adverse impact of this broadband infra gap in a joint position letter sent to the House of Representatives urging the immediate approval of the bill.
“There is an issue which was exacerbated by the pandemic but something that we knew all along: that the country’s information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure is insufficient, mainly due to inherent problems in the country’s legal framework governing ICT,” said the letter.
The position paper was co-signed by Sergio R. Ortiz-Luis Jr., PHILEXPORT president; Benedicto V. Yujuico, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry; and Edgardo G. Lacson, chairman of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines.
“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, an imperative that President Duterte himself has repeatedly raised,” it added.
PHILEXPORT said that if passed, the Open Access Law will allow the private sector, including Internet service providers and value-added service providers, especially those operating in the rural areas, to connect to the government’s National Broadband Plan infrastructure, which will extend the benefits of the Plan to the Filipino consumer.
The bill will also encourage different types of providers to build the “arterial road,” or the so-called middle mile, leading to the communities to provide free public Wi-Fi connectivity or commercial Internet service.
Another benefit seen is how it will institutionalize infrastructure-sharing and the streamlining of permits and regulatory requirements, removing a major stumbling block to the rollout of broadband networks.
The regulation will likewise promote the use of any technology, such as mobile, wired, wireless, satellite, and other internet technologies, by qualified providers.
Finally, it will 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, will benefit from wireless connectivity.