How the Philippines plans to improve 'pathetic' Internet speed

For household download speed, the Philippines ranks 176th out of 202 countries worldwide, and 21st out of 22 in Asia.

Aaron Favila/AP
Filipino students walk along a bridge as they go home after class in Manila, Philippines Thursday. Locals say the debate on net neutrality is way behind that of other countries as even basic access remains a problem.

The Philippines needs to take speedy action on a very slow problem, says a Filipino senator, echoing the complaints of millions of users.

“The current situation in the country is, sad to say, unacceptable. The state of Internet speed is pathetic, and unless we remedy this situation, our IT sector is likely to suffer in the long term,” Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero told local news.

Despite an insatiable appetite for social media, access to the web – at any speed – has long been difficult to obtain in much of the Philippines. Only 37 percent of Filipinos had Internet connectivity in 2013, according to a recent United Nations report. Among the 190 countries evaluated, the Philippines ranked 110th. 

For household download speed, the Philippines ranks 176th out of 202 countries worldwide, according to Internet metrics provider Ookla. “Globally, the average broadband download speed is 23.3 Mbps, nearly eight times faster than the Philippines,” reported GMA News.

But for some users, what they have is good enough. "Our country's internet speed isn't 'slow' in an absolute sense," says Isaac Javellana, a gamer who lives in Manila. "Emails, social networking and some light streaming isn't an issue. In a relative sense though, we pay more for what we get. This is where the problem lies. HD streaming and quick gigabyte downloads are luxuries only accessible to a select few."

The biggest problem is a "lack of competition in the industry to encourage any development at all," says Mr. Javellana. In his opinion, local technicians are poorly trained, with "troubleshooting capabilities limited to issues your regular mom and pop would have."

He adds that he currently pays for an average plan but would be willing to pay more for a connection "that would improve pings and optimize routings to other countries," so he can finally stop experiencing lags when playing games like Call of Duty. "Sadly, there is no such option," he says.

In response to widespread complaints, the government has announced plans to bring free Wi-Fi into schools, parks, libraries, hospitals, and public transportation stations. Speed will remain slow, at 256 kbps, which is closer to dial-up speeds than the 3G and 4G speeds most Americans are used to. But it would allow people to check their email and browse simple websites.

In March, Facebook brought its "Internet for All" plan to the Philippines, providing free access to a few sites (including Facebook and instant messaging) for anyone with a cell phone plan with particular service providers.

Senator Escudero says the solution begins with regulating telecom giants.

“If they have to be mandated to allocate some of their earnings for improving Internet speed, mainly through investing in more equipment and hardware, then so be it,” declared Escudero, joining the chorus of government leaders blaming companies for prioritizing profit over quality.

Those companies criticize the government in return, for creating excessive red tape and confusion.

Staff writer Jessica Mendoza contributed to this report.

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