Salceda: Broader, faster internet use to boost regional economies, support schools reopening

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House Ways and Means chairman, Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda seeks a broader use of the satellite technology for faster internet, especially in the countryside, through a bill titled Satellite-Based Technologies Promotion Act of 2020 (HB 7081) which he recently filed in Congress.

Salceda, who chairs the House’s tax panel, said HB 7081 will support a “stronger digital economy” most particularly work-from-home players, and at the same time boost the distant learning program when school reopens amid the pandemic.

The proposal primarily aims to amend restrictions on the use of satellite technology, currently limited to telecommunications companies only based on the rules set by Executive Order No. 467 (1998).

“COVID-19 has made internet connectivity almost an essential part of the country’s economic continuity and recovery strategy. Without internet connectivity, the country’s work-from-home programs would fall flat. Even with internet connection, however, the country’s slow internet speeds and expensive costs are making work-from-home and distant-learning strategies difficult and costly to execute,” he explained.

As HB 7081 points out, “in a country where enrollment is far from universal in many areas, despite public education being entirely free, the costs associated with connecting to the internet are an added burden to already-struggling families and can further dissuade students from enrolling during the COVID-19, crisis,”

“Although a vaccine will probably come before the country is able to develop satellite-based systems that could be rolled-out in schools and homes, COVID-19 has served as something of a stress test for the country’s internet connectivity and how the lack of it will impact our economic and developmental outcomes. We urgently need improvements in internet connectivity if we are to compete in a more digital world economy,” it adds.

Under Salceda’s bill, the Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT) is more explicitly mandated to be the agency in-charge of regulating the use of satellite-based technologies outside commercial telecommunications.

DICT’s broadened mandate seeks “to ensure that satellite-based systems are viewed from a lens broader than the understandably telco-centric view of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).”  Salceda stressed “internet connectivity is now a developmental need, so DICT’s bigger-picture view is important.”

The bill also allows Internet service providers and value-added services (VAS) providers to build and operate their own networks using satellite technology. This will broaden competition among ISPs, and eventually lower costs and improve benefits for consumers.

The measure also encourages government organizations, public and non-profit private educational institutions, volunteer organizations engaged in education, environmental management, climate change management, disaster preparedness and crisis response to own and operate satellite-based technology to aid and augment their activities.

He said “this will democratize internet access, and allow it to be used more broadly for civic causes, especially education,” He noted that in terms of internet connectivity, much of the country’s under served areas are in regions off Luzon island. In the Visayas, where major island groups may not be large enough to attract investments in internet infrastructure, internet use is at the lowest level in the country, at 34%.

“Satellite-based broadband as one of the country’s modes for making Internet access more inclusive and more diffused is an alternative that can be quickly and easily deployed. Because they do not rely on wire-based systems, satellite-based internet can service rural areas and even the most far-flung islands the country,” HB 7081 argues.

Salceda said satellite-based learning is also an alternative mode of distance learning that should be studied. “Satellite-based internet is also becoming more capable of delivering bandwidth similar to that of traditional, fiber-based systems. The specific requirements for connecting to satellite – setting up a hub and a network of so-called very small aperture terminals (VSATs), which could then be used to distribute bandwidth across end-users through cable or Wi-Fi – is ideal for public schools and community centers in remote or rural areas,” he shared.

Salceda has been pushing for a digital-ready economy, as part of the tax panel chair’s efforts for long-term and sustainable economic growth, amid the economic fallout from COVID-19. His satellite promotion initiative  complements his bills setting a minimum internet speed goal (HB 312), creating digital-ready Schools of the Future (HB 311), making the curriculum more digitally-adaptive through his Comprehensive Education Reform Bill (HB 6247), and digital-compatible skills-based education (HB 6287).

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