Salceda: Internet as “lifeblood of new economy” should be faster, cheaper and more reliable

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House Ways and Means Committee chair, Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, has renewed his call for a faster, cheaper and more reliable internet service as the ”lifeblood of the new economy,” so the country could catch up with the post-pandemic global competition, now considered as a matter of “national emergency.”

Salceda issued his call after the Philippines ranked low at 64th in a metric rating called “digital evolution,” and 52nd in terms of “digital momentum” as reported by Tufts University in Massachusetts and Mastercard Inc., placing the country behind regional competitors Indonesia and Vietnam.

“The internet is the lifeblood of the new economy. If you do not have fast internet, you’re good as finished in the global competition. If we want bigger ambitions for our country, we need faster internet,” he stressed.

Salceda is principal author of two important bills that aim to modernized the country’s digital global status — the Faster Internet Services Act, now pending with the House Committee on Information, Communications and Technology; and the Satellite Liberalization Act, which was already endorsed by President Duterte’s economic cluster.

The lawmaker said the country needs the entry of new telco players in the country’s telecommunications sector to  encourage more competitions, because as things now stand, “internet connection has suddenly become a basic commodity.”

Months of lockdown due to the pandemic have steered the nation into the digital economy, demanding that telecommunications companies improve their internet services. “The new jobs are digital. We will need new jobs as we recover from the coronavirus disease. We will not get those jobs without faster internet, so this is a matter of national emergency,” he noted.

Salceda pointed out that “the Philippines is ahead in terms of user experience. This country has some of the world’s best designers. In fact, the index ranks us 10th on that score,” but the country’s infrastructure and regulations have to catch up.”

The lawmaker is pushing for instituting a common tower policy as part of reforms needed to modernize telecommunications. “Friction costs and barriers to entry need to be removed in the telecommunications sector to boost its performance,” he said, adding  that “the country has so many areas that do not allow cell towers.”

Under the proposed Faster Internet Services Act, telecommunication companies will have to issue minimum internet speed guarantees to consumers. “Current law incentivizes our internet sector not to deliver. It has to change,” he said.

Salceda’s HB 312 aims to declare the poor internet speed and connectivity in the country as a national emergency concern, and grants President Duterte emergency powers, and prescribes urgent measures necessary to address the predicament.

The Satellite Liberalization Act, on the other hand, would allow smaller and rural players access to satellite technologies to broaden competition. It supports a “stronger digital economy” particularly for work-from-home players, and at the same time boost the distant learning program when school reopens amid the pandemic.

The proposed measure 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).

“Current regulations also limit access to the country’s satellite orbital to existing telco players only, so none of the rural players can enter easily,” Salceda lamented.

“I represent a rural, countryside district with rising commercial centers. We need the internet to create value in agriculture and other services. We have a rising BPO sector. We need reliable internet at competitive costs,” he emphasized.

Salceda has been pushing for a digital-ready economy, as part of the efforts of the House tax panel which he chairs, for long-term and sustainable economic growth, amid the economic depredation by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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).

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels

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