DICT flagship projects and what they mean for Filipinos

29 Jun 2017

One year into its creation, the Philippines' Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) launched three flagship projects, which it considers as tools that would “provide ready and reliable communication and transaction channels between the government and the people.”

The projects include the National Government Portal, the Free Wi-Fi in Public Places project and the National Broadband Plan. Another project, Open Data Philippines, was also unveiled.

What do these project mean for the Filipino people? How would each of them make the lives of citizens better?

The National Government Portal (NGP) was designed to serve as “a one-stop shop for all online government services and transactions.” The NGP uses www.gov.ph, which used to be called the Official Gazette under the Aquino administration. The latter is now under http://www.officialgazette.gov.ph.

The NGP conveniently puts in one place the various government agencies and eServices based on sectors such as “business and trade” and “education, scholarships, and training,” and requirements such as “certificates, IDs, and individual licenses” and “clearances, permits, and licenses.”

The assumption, of course, is that each government office has done the critical backend work and has effectively made its services available online. But the portal running on beta is still incomplete, as expected. If one were to file a complaint, say, with the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), the appropriate form is nowhere to be found on the portal’s Assistance and Complaints page. The NTC, however, does have a complaint page on its own website.

The Free Wi-Fi Internet Access in Public Places project was re-launched as Pipol Konek (trans. People Connect). From its original branding, “Juan, Konek!,” it was renamed purportedly to be more gender-sensitive and inclusive.

Pipol Konek now has 338 live hotspots—that’s about 3% of the 13,000 target sites—after its initial launch three years ago. That’s about 1% accomplishment per year! For sure the DICT is trying to fast-track the project after a few failed bids in the past. Will there be better progress once the President signs the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act? It’s also interesting to find out if these active sites are located in the unserved and underserved areas.

And, finally, the National Broadband Plan (NBP). Although the plan has several objectives, the DICT is pushing mainly for two things: (1) policy and regulatory reforms, and (2) building a national broadband infrastructure.

An important reform that DICT is pushing for is that broadband services be provided using an Open Access approach, where market “players are provided access to essential facilities of existing national backbone network operators under terms that are non-discriminatory and transparent, and at prices that are cost-oriented and subject to regulatory oversight.”

These principles are encapsulated in the “Open Access in Data Transmission” bill that was filed by Senator Bam Aquino and Represenative Victor Yap. In the House of Representatives, the bill is already being reviewed by a technical working group composed of government, industry, and consumer group representatives.

But apart from, and more important than, access to existing facilities, the Open Access bill aims to lower the regulatory barriers and cost to entry by allowing non-telcos to build and operate a data network, thus increasing the opportunity for smaller players to compete. More players means more choices for consumers—something that Filipino internet users have not had in a while.

The proposed open access legislation also promotes a technology-neutral approach, where licensing and regulation is service-based instead of technology-specific.

Another significant component of Open Access is the establishment of a peering framework that would mandate all players to connect with each other in order to keep local internet traffic local. While some critics suggest that mandating peering might not be the best way to go, a recent analysis has shown how peering has resulted in improved internet performance in the Philippines. Given the significant increase in bandwidth in peered networks and the potential improvement in ISPs’ performance, shouldn’t mandated peering be pursued?

Advocacy groups and stakeholders are closely and eagerly monitoring developments in the NBP, especially in the policy and reform front. Of course building and operating a government-funded broadband infrastructure will be a huge feat, especially since there has not been any new market entrant that has successfully disrupted the status quo. But as I mentioned in a previous post, and borrowing the wisdom of a veteran industry participant, “reform can be just as powerful, if not more so, than just building the infrastructure.” And with the clamor for better internet raging on despite efforts to drown it out, change needs to happen sooner than later.

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