ICT boost key to recovery – experts

The Philippines must upgrade its information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure to promote financial inclusion and support economic recovery.

Representatives from the UK FCDO Asean Economic Reform Program, National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), Globe Telecoms Inc. and Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) underscored the need to build up the country’s ICT infrastructure during The Manila Times online business forum “Cut-through, countrywide digital solutions” on Thursday.

TALKING ABOUT TECHNOLOGY (Clockwise from left) The Manila Times President and CEO Dante ‘Klink’ Ang 2nd and columnist Ben Kritz moderate The Times’ information communications and technology forum ‘Cut-through, countrywide
digital solutions’ on April 29, 2021. The speakers include Globe Telecom Director of Technology Strategy Engr. Gerhard Tan, keynote speaker and Director General of the Anti-Red Tape Authority Jeremiah Belgica and Fintech Head of the UK FCDO-Asean Economic Reform John Owens. National Telecommunications Commission Deputy Commissioner Edgardo Cabarios also took part in the question-and-answer portion with the speakers. SCREENGRAB FROM THE TIMES YOUTUBE CHANNEL

John Owens, the financial technology lead for UK FCDO Asean Economic Reform Program, said the Philippines lagged behind other countries in terms of ICT despite pioneering in ICT-based financial services.

“I think a lot of people may not realize it, but the Philippines was one of the first countries in the world to really scale up prepaid mobile well before other countries. In 2004…there were more people who owned a mobile phone than a bank account in the country,” Owens said.

Yet other Southeast Asian countries like Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam have leaped ahead of the Philippines in terms of broadband speed.

“The Philippines still has a little bit of catching up to do,” he said.

Key foundational infrastructures in ICT, identification, payments and data-sharing must be in place to achieve digital financial inclusion, Owens said.

He cited positive developments in the country such as the surge in digital payments amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the rolling out of the National ID system, the National Retail Payments System of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, and the upcoming establishment of open finance.

NTC Deputy Commissioner Edgardo Cabarios cited inadequate physical and digital infrastructure as the reason for Philippines lagging behind Vietnam in internet speed.
“You know, Vietnam has 80,000 to 90,000 cell sites. We have only around 23,000 cell sites as of 2020. So this is the reason our average speed for both fixed and mobile is less than Vietnam,” Cabarios said.

To fix this, he emphasized the need for more investments in ICT.

“They predict investments of around P230 billion, but this appears to be insufficient to speed up the construction of needed physical and digital infrastructure in the country,” Cabarios said.

The only way to attract more investments is to liberalize the ICT sector, which means the government would have to amend the Public Service Act, allow up to 100 percent foreign ownership and open access to data transmission, he said.

“This will also remove some of the restrictions in market entry. So all of these, if done, then we can accelerate the development of physical and digital infrastructure in the country, and we can catch up with our neighbors,” he added.

Globe Director for Technology Strategy Gerhard Tan said the telecommunications firm will be spending P70 billion to expand its footprint by building more cell sites and improving the fiber connectivity to home lines.

“So this is something that is really in support to the government’ mandate in terms of improving the customer experience on internet connectivity,,” Tan said.

ARTA Director General Jeremiah Belgica said several government agencies have come up with a joint circular that harmonized provisions on the building of telecommunications towers.

“It is also not limited to shared passing telecommunications and internet structures, it would also cover similar towers being used for radios since normally they also go through the same process as to coming up with a tower,” Belgica said.

The Manila Times forum was conducted in partnership with Globe Telecom Inc. Other partners are the British Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the Philippines, Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, and Management Association of the Philippines.

The Times’ media partner in the event is TMT TV.