Many Filipinos experience an incongruence when it comes to digital connections and spaces. Even though internet connectivity plays a vital role in people’s lives, not everybody has a stable access to it nor knows how to use it. According to a 2020 World Bank report, around 60 percent of Filipino households have limited access to the internet. It means that over 60 million Filipinos have trouble going online and performing any school- or work-associated tasks. It is especially true in the case of rural areas, where digital infrastructure is yet to be built.
The onslaught of the Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic only made this divide more apparent. As classes, offices, and businesses shift to online spaces, the lack of a stable internet connection has made completing daily tasks significantly harder. This gap leads to lower productivity levels, which ultimately affects the country’s growing digital economy.
The issue can be attributed to a number of causes. They include the shortage of digital infrastructure in the country, expensive connection costs, and the public’s general distrust toward digital transactions. To address this, the Philippine government has been taking steps to support digital reform. Policies and projects are aligned with 4 main objectives for tackling this digital problem.
Improve Internet Availability
Government-mandated reforms significantly contribute to the development of digital infrastructure that Philippines-based individuals will benefit from. One way to do this is to make the permitting process for constructing such infrastructures more efficient. The Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA), for example, has released new guidelines that aim to shorten the permitting process for shared telecommunication towers from nine months to only 16 days.
Another example comes from the Department of Information and Communications and Technology (DICT). The agency aims to issue policy reforms that would speed up the permitting process for fiber optic networks, common poles, and in-building solutions.
Increase Competition Among Internet Providers
Aside from availability, another problem that Philippine residents face is internet quality. Citing a 2019 Ookla report, the World Bank noted that the average broadband speed in the country, 16.7 megabits per second (Mbps), is considerably slower than the global average of 32.01 Mbps. However, internet costs remain consistently high.
The lack of competition among internet providers could be one of the obstacles in improving services, the report pointed out. Previously, two companies maintained a duopoly in the data transmission services across the country but recent years have seen the entry of new industry players. Removing key market barriers could foster a more competitive environment. This act also encourages internet providers to improve their facilities and offer more competitive prices on their services.
Encourage Digital Adoption
In terms of time spent online, Filipinos are among the top users in the world. On average, Filipinos spend 10 hours online daily, especially on social media and video games. However, just because Filipinos are online a lot, it does not mean that they fully trust digital transactions. Indeed, many Filipinos stick to the ideology that it would be better to do things in person, whether it is registering for an event or paying off bills.
This hesitation to embrace digital solutions may stem from a lack of understanding of how they work. One of the most effective ways the Philippine government can address this issue is to set an example themselves. Government agencies, departments, and institutions must embrace and invest in digital solutions to improve their operations. Some of the digitization programs that have been rolled out include:
- Filing tax form submissions to the Bureau of Internal Revenue
- Registration of business name with the Department of Trade and Industry
- Requesting services for certifications from the Philippine Statistics Authority
Once the public sees that the system works, they will be more encouraged to try digital solutions. The experience will highlight the ease of using online registrations, payments, and other transactions. This will further push forward the digital economy, increase productivity levels, and contribute to the country’s overall GDP.
Build Defenses Against Cyberattacks
Security is often overlooked when it comes to building digital infrastructure. However, it plays a crucial role in maintaining effective and reliable digital solutions. This aspect comes into light as users and companies become more aware of the importance of protecting personal information and ensuring customer privacy.
After all, the internet is highly useful and convenient for all users, but there will always be individuals with ill or criminal intentions. Thus, government agencies also invest in software, hardware, and teams dedicated to system maintenance and ensuring that there are no breaches.
Conclusion: Digital Reforms Must be Prioritized
While people have been using the internet since the 1980s, it was only in recent years that connectivity has become a necessity. Being online has transformed the way people accomplish daily tasks and transactions and will continue to do so. Thus, investing in digital infrastructure is not only about addressing the current needs of the people but also opening up new avenues for the future. With the right mindset and strategic approach, the country’s economy can surely bounce back by embracing digital solutions and approving digital reforms.