At the beginning of the quarantines, Mayor Sara Duterte mandated all schools in Davao to go online. ADDU complied, and has meanwhile declared that online education is not only a stopgap measure for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic, but even belongs to a new normal of blended education in the Philippines where face-to-face learning will always be combined with online learning. Online learning strengthens the Filipino as a self-directed, self-disciplined learner in the 21st century. It also frees the teacher of repetitive teaching from yellowed notes, and invites the teacher to coach and coax students towards learning through the creation of creative coarseware. Students take well to learning through such as gamified instruction.
The fly in the ointment is poor Internet connectivity and speed. Some students and teachers already suffer from poor internet signals.
The situation only promises to get worse. The limited bandwidth out there provided by internet service providers (ISPs) already appears insufficient. Banks, business process outsourcing, and various new forms of online commerce like Lazada and GCash, plus the longtime use by the general population, but especially by the younger generations, of internet for social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and home entertainment such as Netflix, compete for the limited bandwidth.
But for the schools this year, it is online education or perish. For the teachers, it is teach online or be irrelevant. For the students, it is learn online, or lose a school year. But when all the schools begin teaching together online in August, the grim prospect is that all will hurt each other competing for the same limited resource.
Can anything be done to prevent this disaster?
One would be to alert the major Internet service providers, Globe and Smart-PLDT to the increasing demand and request them to provide more access. The trouble here is that Globe and Smart-PLDT have been aware of the slow connectivity for a long time, and have been too comfortable in their duopoly hold on the market to invest more in greater connectivity and speed. Internet service in the Philippine, even without the schools increasing demand on bandwidth, is already notoriously slow.
If Ookla’s Global Speedtest is to be believed, for fixed broadband that uses fiber-optic cables, the Philippines has achieved 19.28 megabits per second (Mbps) download speed. For mobile broadband, on the other hand, it has achieved 14.46 Mbps. While these are generous figures, global average for fixed broadband is 59.6 Mbps while is it 27.22 Mbps for mobile broadband. High speed internet is 100 Mbps or higher. The Philippines at best only achieves 32% of the global speed for fixed broadband and 53.1% for mobile broadband.
Meanwhile, the BARMM is the most underserved region of the Philippines for Internet service. Using the Measurement Lab (MLab) of Princeton University, Google, Open Technology Institute and Code for Science and Society, a person in Cotabato using either mobile or fixed broadband gets 1.03 Mbps, in Davao he gets 2.57 Mbps on average, in Cagayan de Oro 2.79, in Cebu 2.62, in Bacolod 2.44, in Naga 9.59, in Quezon City 6.04, in Loyola Heights 29, in Diliman, QC, 2.98, in Manila 3.19, in Makati 4.06, in Baguio 4.55, in Cabantuan, 2.67 in Tuguegarao 2.92
President Duterte and legislators are aware of this. But promises to fix the situation remain promises, and legislation proposed to remedy the situation remains unpassed.
In this context the legislation Bilis Konek proposed by Sen. Ralph Recto (SB 471) and complemented by Congresswoman Vilma Santos-Recto (HB 4367) providing for minimum standards of delivery for Internet Service Providers makes sense. Internet Service Providers advertise maximums, but fail to commit to minimums. So when I am promised a maximum of 20 Mbps, but get only 1.0 or even nothing, I have no reason to complain.
Bilis konek provides for a minimum of 20 Mbps for fixed broadband and 10 Mbps for mobile broadband. But considering the MLab figures, even if it were a consolidated minimum of 10 Mbps, the national situation would be greatly improved.
Considering the impending crisis situation in August, the President ought to consider certifying this as urgent, especially in support of education.
He may also wish to hasten the entry of the third telco, delayed by the pandemic, into the market. The more telco players in the Philippines, as in Singapore, the better. LGUs may be instructed to facilitate, not delay, laying infrastructure for these new telcos.
Finally he may also wish to urgently augment internet connectivity, to date mostly provided by sub-marine fiber optic cables, through up-to-date satellite technology. (He may also wish to examine how the satellites of current programs are dated and low tech.) Expanding connectivity through satellites is the fastest way to provide the nation with greater connectivity and speed. For an archipelago like the Philippines with many mountainous areas, accessing the internet through satellites would be the fastest way to meet the urgent national need.