Over the past two years, the internet has proven to be a precious commodity that has kept society running despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses found a new platform in the digital space, allowing them to continue their businesses, while students still managed to learn new things through distance education while continuing their businesses online. An internet connection has also helped keep many people well informed and sane while the world has come to a standstill. Through various social media platforms, streaming websites, online news platforms, and entertainment apps, people have found a way to stay on top of the latest happenings without having to leave their homes. Online games and messaging apps have also kept people busy, fostering connections, both new and already established. But even though many people are enjoying the benefits of the Internet and technology, there are still some issues that need to be addressed for users to realize their full potential. In the Philippines, the common struggle when it comes to the Internet is its speed and the strength of its connection. There are only a few network providers in the country, each with limits on their services. Internet users have previously expressed concern that they may not have access to a particular network provider in their area or that they encounter frequent technical issues that prevent them from completing their tasks or finding a quick way to learn or be entertained. Such occurrences have been constant in various fields for years, thus adding to user frustration.
The current situation of the country
According to government data, as of January 2021, there were around 74 million internet users in the country. But 33 percent or a third of the country does not have an internet connection, depriving residents of these regions of vital digital information and services from government or the private sector. This emphasizes the need for the national government to start investing in information and communications technology infrastructure, especially now that the internet has become an integral part of the new normal. Compared to other Asian countries, the Philippines lags behind when it comes to having the digital infrastructure necessary to maintain an Internet connection for the many Filipinos who need it for their daily needs. Digital infrastructures refer to the digital technologies that form the basis of an organization’s information technology and operations. This includes the Internet backbone, broadband, mobile telecommunications and digital communications suites, including applications. With only 17,850 telecommunications towers in the country, there is still a long way to go before it equals more than 50,000 telecommunications towers in Thailand and 90,000 in Vietnam, respectively. The development of digital infrastructure could greatly help people in remote areas to access an Internet connection. Apart from that, having more telecom towers can also solve the biggest problem for internet users: connectivity. Unknown to many, the fundamental reason why Internet connections in many parts of the country are limited is that there are around 4,000 users per tower, clogging up the available service that should have been accessible to more. Compared to Vietnam and Thailand, which have 756 and 991 users per turn, respectively, the Philippines still has a long way to go before meeting the demands of its internet users by building more digital infrastructure.
Some avenues for building better digital infrastructures
There are several ways to improve digital infrastructure in the Philippines. While building more telecom towers is a viable way to start, there are other approaches to consider. One is to establish the appropriate regulatory and industrial policies to encourage investment. Fragmented regulatory regimes add unnecessary costs to infrastructure operators. But standardized regulations and policies can help reduce the costs of research and development, deployment and operation of the network. Policies and regulations must encourage growth and create a healthy market environment to enable stakeholders to invest in a country’s digital infrastructure. Another way is to find approaches to reduce the cost of network infrastructure. This includes making decisions such as providing wireless services as opposed to fixed services, as these are cheaper and faster for operators to deploy. Sharing infrastructure is also necessary to reduce costs. Site acquisition and civil engineering are significant deployment costs, but sharing civil engineering such as conduits, towers, and power lines can significantly reduce costs. Finally, the Philippines must strengthen collaborations with players in the information and communication technologies sector. Having such collaboration between industry players to harmonize technology requires cooperation between suppliers, operators and the entire ecosystem to maximize synergy.
Why is it important to have digital infrastructures?
Many people consider the stability of an Internet connection to be the number one concern that digital infrastructures must address. But they’re not just about keeping users online and connected. In many rural areas, improving internet services through digital infrastructure helps support innovations in various industries that keep a country afloat. This includes agriculture, construction and mining. As for urban areas, improved services can help people access platforms and services that meet their daily needs or more. Examples are delivery services, food, retail, news agencies, government agencies, and healthcare. Improving connectivity and accessibility is only the direct benefit of digital infrastructure developments. If given proper attention, digital infrastructure can increase economic growth as it helps create new businesses and jobs, improves the sustainability of cities by solving complex problems and adopting new technologies. As the world is constantly changing and modernizing, digital infrastructure plays a key role in keeping economies alive, helping people stay connected and active, and enabling different industries to operate more efficiently and more sustainably.
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