April 10, 2014
20 years of Philippine internet

Grace Mirandilla-Santos

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April 07, 2014

I was 20 years old when I first got exposed to the internet. Having come from a family that did not own a computer, I barely knew how or why to go “online.” Right after graduating in 1998, I became a research assistant for a university professor who introduced me to emails.

Being the non-techie that I was, you can only imagine my astonishment when I found out that a computer can “connect” with other computers worldwide. Since then, the internet has pretty much become a part of my research profession.

Today, the internet is a part of everything. The United Nations declared that access to it is a human right. The World Bank has been touting the economic impact of broadband connectivity. And the developed world is abuzz with wonderment about the so-called Internet of Things.

Who knew that the internet would become this big?

Back in 1993, connecting the Philippines to the Internet began as a small “project” proposed by Dr. William “Bill” Torres, former director-general of the National Computer Center, who “discovered” that the internet can be brought into the country as acommercial product.

The government, through the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) under the project administration of Dr. Rodolfo “Rudy “ Villarica, gave an initial grant funding of ten million pesos. This amount was used to buy equipment and pay for the leased line connecting to the United States, with a capacity of 64 kbps costing about $10,000 per month back then.

Both Dr. Torres and Dr. Villarica are now known as the fathers of the Philippine internet.

On March 29, 1994, Philnet (later on, PHNet), which consisted of a bunch of engineers from various universities, connected the Philippines to the internet. And the rest is history.

Twenty years hence, cost has significantly gone down and internet in the country has expanded to government offices, businesses, households, and individual citizens. The Philippines has adapted well to this technology so much so that it has recorded the biggest internet population growth globally over the past five years.

Internet connectivity has spurred a wide new range of businesses, and especially so for the telecommunication sector that had just been liberalized in the mid-1990s. According to the National Telecommunication Commission (NTC), there were 360 registered ISPs nationwide in 2012, up from 93 a decade earlier. Network equipment and value-added services today have a huge demand. A lot of businesses have also ventured, and are thriving, online.

Barely 10 years after the internet was introduced, business process outsourcing (BPO) services emerged. Today, the Philippines is a top location for BPOs whose export revenues hit $13.34 billion in 2013.

Filipinos have discovered in the internet another medium for communication and self-expression. Over the past years, we have been ranked as among the heaviest users of Facebook, photo-sharing, and online videos. This is no surprise because the country is, after all, the texting capital of the world.

But after 20 years, an ecosystem of problems continues to stifle the development of internet in the country.

Read the full entry here. Visit Telecom Asia for news and analysis for Asia’s telecoms operators.

November 21, 2013
When communication fails during a disaster

Grace Mirandilla-Santos

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November 20, 2013

On November 8, the Philippines was hit by Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan), one of the strongest typhoons to make landfall ever recorded in the world’s history. A vast expanse of the provinces on the Eastern part of the country has been devastated, some towns left in ruins and almost wiped out.

In the aftermath of the super typhoon which packed maximum sustained winds of 315 kph (by comparison, Hurrican Katrina’s was 280 kph) and brought a deadly storm surge, the affected areas lost telecommunication services vital to disaster response. This made everything much worse.

Despite having top national government officials pre-positioned in Tacloban City, one of the hardest hit, information on the extent of the damage and the amount of help needed came in trickles. In fact, assessment of the situation became more difficult twice over, especially since airports and ports were also wrecked.

People outside the typhoon’s path relied on intermittent TV newsfeeds by media people on the ground, who were themselves stranded and unable to use phone services.

For several days, survivors could not contact their government for help or get their message across to loved ones in other areas to inform them that they were alive and needed help.

The local governments in the province of Leyte struggled to function, because they themselves were victims. In Tacloban City, the number of police officers, fire fighters, and health workers was significantly diminished. It became almost impossible to mobilize personnel and resources from within.

In a country where mobile phones are ubiquitous and the need for texting has become part of the Filipino psyche, one could only imagine how to it was like for the government, the survivors, and relief operators to be cut off when communicating was needed the most.

In several provinces in Central Philippines, especially the Visayas, communication was either completely lost or poor. Smart Communications, Sun Cellular, and Globe Telecom’s 2G and 3G networks went down due to power outages and damaged cell sites. The whole region became practically isolated.

Read the full entry here. Visit Telecom Asia for news and analysis for Asia’s telecoms operators.

July 18, 2013
Philippines’ telecom laws need a revamp

Grace Mirandilla-Santos

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Grace Mirandilla-Santos | July 16, 2013

Unlike in other countries where telecommunication was developed and operated primarily by the state, in the Philippines it’s the private sector that is leading and reaping the rewards of this lucrative sector.

 

Not that the government would do or know better, if it had its way. But since the liberalization era in the early 1990s and the e-Commerce law in 2000, legislation and policymaking targeted at helping the sector has pretty much stagnated.

 
Take convergence, for example. A bill on converging telecommunications-related technologies, which allows telcos and ISPs to offer multimedia services, has been languishing in Congress for more than a decade.
 
Doubts of a convergence law ever happening are founded on the difficult question of its constitutionality. A Globe Telecom official once said that the Philippine Constitution, particularly the provision on 100% Filipino ownership of mass media, would need to be amended first.
 
But today, it seems that all the debates are moot and academic. The private telcos are already steering the way toward convergence sans a law, and with little or no involvement from the government.

 

Read the full entry here. Visit Telecom Asia for news and analysis for Asia’s telecoms operators.

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