Much have been said lately about how Internet is slow in the Philippines. “Congestion, oversubscription,” ABS-CBN quotes a DOST engineer. The other telcos add layer to the problem like issues with Local Government Units— which in my experience— is real. Isn’t all this— symptoms of the underlying disease, rather than the cause?
When someone wants to build something— a house— for example, he goes, and draws up a plan. A design— a signal of— intention. Well, he doesn’t do it himself gets a contractor or architect to draw it up (unless he is a contractor or architect himself, I suppose). He tells them how many rooms, and baths, and how much he hopes to spend on it so the architect and contractor has an idea on how to design it. There should be room for the kids to play in! There should be a place for the dog, and the car!
The same goes for cars, or spaceships, and space travel, or Computers. The same goes for building a business, or an artist writing, painting, or writing music, or anything that involves creation. There is an underlying plan. There is a thoughtfulness put into it. A design.
You hear Apple talk about how they craft perfectly beautiful products. You read about how much they care about the screws— how beautiful it looks in the inside, as much as it looks beautiful on the outside. Pride in the workmanship. In the craft.
Design is an indication of intention.
It is the same with nation building. It is the same whether or not we’re talking about how crappy the Internet is in the country, or why the power situation in the Philippines is as bad as it is. The lack of underlying design.
If design is a signal of intention, then policy direction is similar. The key to South Korean success— in so far as broadband space is concerned is a clear indication of policy. They developed national broadband plans. Several in fact, over the years, because plans are not static, they adjust overtime.
In the Philippines there is a Philippine Digital Strategy. The Government used it as basis, and seem to be making some success in developing, and executing an eGovernment Master Plan. This is good in concept, and looks like the Department of Science, and Technology is on the right path to build these eServices. Short of waiting for an evaluation— the direction the government is going for with regard to eServices is I would say, OK. As you can see, when there is a clear plan, and a clear vision, there is proper direction.
Creating policy does not mean that it kills the free market. In fact, Policy should be an initiative that spurs innovation, increases investment, grants further access to information as well as preventing unfair pricing, consumer exploitation, breaches of privacy, and on the business-side, protects investors from government that may make it impossible to do business. Cough, LGUs. In short, it is about setting up rules of Fair Play. It is about designing a vision of what we want to build.
The Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom (#MCPIF) was designed as a foundation. It invokes the spirit of Angevin charter with a purpose. Just like the Constitution is the foundation of our laws, the MCPIF’s foundation on people sets the stage for what’s next.
The next step is to lay the foundation for a real National Broadband Plan. What are the elements I think that should be part of this plan?
First, it needs to be multistakeholder. The guys who need to make this should be multidisciplinary because the Internet has a profound impact on everything. So the guys who are designing, developing, establishing and executing a detailed strategy should be recognized leaders in national security, financial analysis, technology, telecommunications, information technology, healthcare, manufacturing, education, community development and energy; representatives from government agencies, non-governmental entities, the business community, chambers of commerce, and industry watchdogs.
No one person has the complete picture on how to go about this. So a multistakeholder approach is necessary. It would be nice if the model was rough consensus and running code, but that would be asking too much, isn’t it?
Second, a national broadband plan needs to advance a) consumer welfare; (2) civic participation; (3) public safety, and Security; (4) community development; (5) Healthcare delivery; (6) Energy Independence; (7) Efficiency in Education, employee training, private sector investment, entrepreneurial activity, job creation; (8) establish infrastructure, and network rollout; (9) Research; (10) Manufacturing promotion; (11) User awareness;
Digital literacy; (11) e-Government Master Plan for e-government services; (12) Economic growth and opportunity generation; and
of course, other national purposes.
[Just as a side note, a lot of this second point is in the MCPIF.]
Third, we need to be serious about investing in our nation’s future. Investing comes from the necessity of putting government funds into the infrastructure. Investing comes from the necessity of putting monies into digital literacy, in research. Investing comes in the ability to enact policy that gets other players into the field.
To show you my point. Please take a look at this. You won’t find this proposed bill in any government website because it is entirely fictional. It is a thought experiment to illustrate my points in this opinion piece.
We spend too much time allocating monies to bogus Non-Government Organizations, maybe it is time to allocate monies for our own use. What works for us, but with as much specificity, and feedback mechanism as possible, because you know, it isn’t a stupid idea to say we don’t know or can predict everything.
For example, government should be tasked to forming partnerships, making strategic development a priority, putting monies into research projects aimed at identifying, “Is this plan working?” Analytics are important to make informed decision. It doesn’t hurt that accelerating three digit intelligence in this country wouldn’t be a bad thing. That’s why it is in that thought experiment to include feedback from NEDA, and the academe. Plus, increasing research wouldn’t be a bad thing either, no?
Much have been said about the symptoms of the disease. We get it. There is slow is because of bad infrastructure. It is bad infrastructure because we let the telcos decide deluding ourselves that this is how a free market acts. It is like telling a contractor to build your house without you reviewing the plans or how much it costs.
Of course, the telcos are going to build it to make as much profit as possible. That’s what businesses do! I also have a business selling web servers, and I wouldn’t be in business if I didn’t make money off it. If I could get away selling servers for US$100, and having spent only US$1 for it, why wouldn’t I jump at the chance? What’s the point of being in business?
Going back to our house analogy, would you be pissed at a contractor if they put in the cheap PHP 10 peso tile in your bathroom over the Italian tile that you wanted, but never actually told your contractor, “dude, this is what I want”?
Blaming a business for making too much profit without the underlying regulation— the plan— around it is just barking at the wrong tree. It is like telling a dog not to scratch flees. A dog can’t help to scratch. A business can’t help to profit. It is in the nature of both. This is why there are consumer protection laws telling businesses how to act. This is why there is government. This is why there should be a national broadband plan. The underlying problem why Internet is slow in the Philippines can be summed up in this phrase: lack of clear policy.
I leave you with this article from the BBC, which was shared by Wilson Ng on Google+: “On paper, the Philippines has all the ingredients of an emerging tech tiger: a fast-growing middle class with money to spend; a 100-million strong, largely English-speaking, population addicted to social media; plus low labour and operating costs — except that it has slow and expensive internet…. “