MANILA, PHILIPPINES — A Makati City congressman recently filed a bill that would tag Internet service “a basic telecommunications function” to give regulators the muscle to compel improvements by suppliers, including escalating connection speeds within prescribed deadlines, under pain of heavy fines.
“This is the best solution to the country’s supply of sluggish, inefficient and costly Internet services,” said Rep. Luis Campos Jr., a deputy minority leader. “Our initiative is in keeping with the view of the United Nations Human Rights Council that all people have a right to Internet access, or the right to broadband, in order to exercise and enjoy other fundamental rights.”
At present, Internet service in the Philippines is considered a “value-added service (VAS),” thus making it difficult if not impossible for the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to require higher standards, according to Campos.
Campos’ House Bill 5337 expressly redefines Internet service as “a prime telecommunications function within the jurisdiction and regulatory power of the NTC”.
“Right now, even if the NTC calls for compliance with faster connection speeds, Internet service providers will simply say they hope to eventually meet the terms, but not for now,” Campos said. “And should regulators force the issue, they are vulnerable to civil lawsuits by defiant service providers.”
According to Akamai Technologies Inc’s State of the Internet Report as of the first quarter of 2017, the Philippines has the slowest average connection speed at 5.5Mbps in the Asia Pacific region versus Thailand’s 16Mbps, Vietnam’s 9.5Mbps, Malaysia’s 8.9Mbps and Indonesia’s 7.2Mbps.
The report ranks the Philippines No. 100 globally in average connection speed while South Korea is No. 1 worldwide with 28.6 Mbps and Paraguay is No. 148 with 1.4 Mbps.
As proposed by Campos in his bill, Internet service suppliers that fail to deliver accelerating connection speeds within fixed deadlines face up to P100,000 in daily fines that could last up to 500 days, or reach up to ₱50 million, for every instance of non-compliance.
The bill also grants the NTC and its officers immunity from civil proceedings with respect to any directives they may issue to ensure the performance of time-bound upgrades in Internet services.
In batting for the new law, Campos invoked “the State’s duty to protect the interest of consumers, including Internet users, promote their general welfare, and to establish standards of conduct for business and industry”.
The bill seeks to amend the 22-year-old Public Telecommunications Policy Law of the Philippines, or Republic Act 7925.
“When Congress passed that law way back in 1995, the Internet was just starting to become available in the country,” Campos said. In fact, there is no mention of the Internet or Internet service in the law at all. That is how antiquated the law has become,”