imyeyes-banner-sqIn My EyesBy Edward B. Antonio

Virtual teaching-learning on bad internet connection (Last of two parts)

How pathetic is our internet connection, fellas? And why do we have the slowest online connection in Asia?

As the Philippines continues its losing streak in the broadband-speed wars, lawmakers are moving (again) to conduct a probe to help improve the “pathetic state” of internet in the country. Aside from Lapid calling anew for an investigation, Sen. Bam Aquino did it earlier in 2014, trying to seek a congressional inquiry to find out if consumers were indeed getting their money’s worth from internet services being provided by telecommunication companies. But it seemed, nothing came out of it.

A man who calls himself Leon Kilat, writes for Quora:

There are 3 reasons why internet connection in the Philippines is turtle-paced: cell towers, geography and only 2 companies providing internet service for the whole country.

It is extremely difficult to put up cell towers in this country. Putting up a cell tower involves 3 levels of government beaurucracy starting with ‘barangay’ level or local community officials; next is processing your engineering, electrical and sanitation permits at the city or municipal level while at the same time getting additional approvals and permits from national government agencies such as the DICT-NTC, DOST, DENR and DPWH.

Add to the fact that local politicians “demand” that cell towers be put up in plots of land that their family owns so that they earn from collecting rent. Also some communities put up a lot of opposition in having cell towers in their area based on the ill-informed idea that cell towers cause disease. Some have resorted in getting judicial court orders barring telcos from putting up cell towers in their communities (all the while complaining of poor cell and internet service in their area).

  What normally takes 1–2 months to put up a cell tower in other developed countries would take 6 months to a year in the Philippines just for 1 cell tower alone.

2. Geography: There are some 7,100 islands. The Philippines has a geographical disadvantage in setting up ICT infrastructure. With so many islands to be connected across the Pacific Ocean and Mountainous terrains in the Center of these islands… it’s not very easy. 

3. Only 2 telecommunications companies operate in the Philippines. Although it may look like there are a lot of telcos in the Philippines, all of them are owned by only 2 conglomerates – PLDT and Globe Telecom.

  A third telco?

Rappler reports that Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Secretary Gregorio Honasan II is “confident” that 3rd major telco Dito Telecommunity can deliver on its promise by July 2020.

“Based on our discussions, I am satisfied that given the updates by the 3 top executives, Dito is on its way to deliver on its promise of cheaper and more efficient service to the subscribing public,” he said.

According to DICT, the updates were on tower building activities, secured deals on infrastructure development, construction updates on network operations centers, rollout of crucial infrastructure, as well as projected timetables.

For its first year of business, Dito promised to provide internet speed of 27 megabits per second (Mbps) on average.

Honasan said he advised the 3rd telco to keep DICT updated, as the department will be monitoring Dito’s promised internet speed of 55 Mbps and 84% coverage within the mandated 5-year period. Dito Telecommunity, formerly Mislatel, is composed of Uy’s Udenna Corporation and publicly listed Chelsea Logistics, with Beijing-run China Telecom as its foreign partner.

However, Rappler further reports that Globe and Smart subscribers looking to shift to Dito Telecommunity won’t be able to do so this year, contrary to what officials previously said. Dito chief administrative officer Adel Tamano said their commercial rollout will be in March 2021, as the company further fine-tunes its services to beat the telco duopoly.

Tamano was previously quoted as saying that commercial operations would start by the 2nd quarter of 2020. Tamano explained on Thursday that this is not another postponement, since Dito’s network would be available by July 2020 – but not for consumers to use just yet.

“In our CPCN (certificate of public convenience and necessity), the July 18, 2020 refers to our technical launch, which means that we have to have the entire network set and government will audit us if we are reaching our commitment of 37% coverage and 27 Mbps – that is only a technical launch, that isn’t a commercial launch,” Tamano said.

Dito also aims to build 1,600 towers by July 2020, which covers 37% of the Philippine population. Close to 600 base installations have been done to date, comprising owned and common towers.

Now, going back to our main issue: What do we expect in a virtual teaching-leaning situation in a bad internet connection? While waiting for the 3rd telco to balance the gap missed by PLDT and Globe Telecom, what will happen to poor students when schools go online?

Prince Kennex R. Aldama, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Department of Social Sciences in UP Los Baños predicts:

After this pandemic, the gap between the rich and the poor will still remain. For this so-called distance learning to be effective, a student will need a computer and a stable internet. The university (University of the Philippines) tasked each faculty member to conduct a survey in our respective classes to assess our students’ access to virtual learning. The survey asks how many students have computers and internet access in their homes.

All of my students, in 4 classes, have computers. But some of them do not have access to the internet when they go home. I start to wonder about other students in the country who do not have internet access, let alone computers and gadgets. What will happen to their learning when their school suspends classes? How are they going to have access to online learning materials?

The presence of technology and digital classrooms are manifestations of a modern education system. We see that distance is being overcome. The physical presence of warm bodies is not necessary for a class to be held. While the presence of technology is one good story of innovation, access to them is another. This issue is rooted in the larger social problem of digital inequality. Only those who have the resources to buy gadgets and to get an internet connection in their homes are the ones who are privileged to continue their learning despite the physical distance.

This, fellas, is what the Department of Education trying to fill up. How will it be done would be another topic at another point in time. Meanwhile, let’s wait and hope that something concrete and positive will come out.