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The Curious Case of the Philippines' Slow Internet Connection

by Tech Team
31 Jul 2017 | 2:10 PM

For around PHP 1,000 every month, we Filipinos enjoy Internet connections that reach up to 3 Mbps or so. At least that's what we're supposed to believe, based on the ads that we see on a daily basis.

The Philippines may be the world's social media capital, but we have one of the slowest connections in the world. Our average speed of 2.0 to 3.6 Mbps pales in comparison with nearby countries such as Singapore (65 Mbps), Thailand (17.9 Mbps), and Vietnam (13.7 Mbps). Note that the average speed in the entire

ASEAN is 12.4 Mbps, a far cry from what we have at the moment.

On top of this, we pay a high price for the service.  For PHP 999, we get somewhere between 1.5 Mbps to 3.0 Mbps. Compare this to Singapore's  15 Mbps for roughly around PHP 1,300 and Thailand's 12 Mbps for approximately PHP 1,100 and you can see how bad our speed-to-price differential is.
 

 

Facebook pages take forever to load, movie downloads last for days on your download manager, and you have to give YouTube videos some buffer time before you can watch a 3-minute clip.

This, for most Internet-savvy Filipinos, is aggravatingly frustrating, especially considering that Internet access is now considered a basic human right. Petitions make the rounds online, calling for a faster and more reliable service from telcos, not to mention that our senators are currently probing why our country's Internet speed lags behind.

In most cases, our computers and mobile phones don't experience the telcos' advertised speeds (and even if we do, it's during the wee hours). But why is this the case? Having an Internet-savvy population, shouldn't we have an average speed that can compete with our neighboring countries?

So far, three reasons point to our sluggish connections.

Congestion
The main reason telcos pointed out during the recent hearing is that most connections are congested.

Here's what Smart Communications public affairs group head Ramon Isberto said during the hearing, as quoted from Rappler:
"You can have a network with more than adequate capacity, but you can have congestion in a specific area. The common example is a concert. Tens of thousands are in one area. All have cellphones; many taking selfies. It's hard to design a network that can handle that capacity."

Isberto further pointed out that telcos would have to shell out some capital to build extra infrastructure to improve the overall service, which brings us to the next reason: topography.

Topography
The Philippines is an archipelago, and that fact alone already makes it a challenge for telcos to expand their infrastructure properly. With 7,107 islands to connect, it costs a lot of money from the provider to create facilities that improve the service.

Our infrastructure spreads in a much slower pace due to the country's topography. Unlike Singapore which has only one island, Philippine telcos have to bridge the gap across straits, channels, and seas to connect the nation's Internet infrastructure.

Lack of Central Organization
The National Telecommunications Commission explains that, for now, they don't have a lot of power over this issue. Under Philippine law, Internet access is still a value-added service (VAS) and not a basic service. As a result, the NTC has no power to regulate the price, as VAS deals make the price and terms of service subject to an agreement between the telco and the user. For NTC, our current law is outdated, and we have to make adjustments to give the government some power over this issue.

Another point is that the Philippines is the only country in ASEAN where there's no IP peering among telcos and government funding support for Internet connections. Both these factors could boost the country's average speed, but both are still sadly nonexistent.

These factors contribute to the slow overall speed we experience today, but all hope is not lost. It's not that we - the general public - are powerless against this, but we can't leave everything in the hands of one concerned party. Both the government and telcos must work together and take action on this matter, and public opinion can sway these parties.

The time will come when we won't have to wait forever for a Google search, or stop streaming a video just to let it load a few more frames. Hopefully, that time arrives soon. Really soon.