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Philippine Wi-Fi, digital trade and the data revolution

It’s June and it’s National ICT Month in the Philippines.

Each year, I write on topics

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I’m passionate about, like the advocacy for the creation and  mandate of a DICT, digital transformation, cybersecurity, effective ICT program implementation and agile methodologies.

Today, it is about the clarion call for solutions to improve Philippine Wi-Fi for us to maximize the potential benefits of digital trade. 

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Filipinos are tired of waiting for decades for Philippine internet to improve.

There are many ways for the Philippines to harness the potential, for example, of digital trade for exports or for domestic consumption. Filipinos stand to gain from digitally enabled transactions that have to do with trade in goods, data and services that can either be digitally or physically delivered, and involving consumers, companies and our government.

While all forms of digital trade are enabled by digital technologies, not all digital trade is digitally enabled.

Digital trade can involve digitally enabled but physically delivered trade in consumer goods through an online marketplace, or booking a hotel stay, a tour, a ride or a flight though an online software application.

Digitalization has indeed changed how we trade goods and services. 

But it has also given rise to many issues to be addressed by our policy or lawmakers, ranging from the physical management of the goods, to the implications on counterfeit goods or biosecurity standards, and the impact on tax collection.

Despite the many barriers, the Philippines remains a fast-growing market for digital trade in Asia with its dynamic economy and a large population proficient in digital technologies.

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Estimates show a population of 108 million, 124 million mobile subscriptions, 76 million internet users, 76 million social media users and 72 million mobile social users.

Our policymakers must address various areas of concern to realize the full potential of digital trade, including the development of frameworks and e-commerce governance to maximize the benefits and scale up its adoption.

We need rapid access to data and should continue to address data privacy and cybersecurity concerns and constraints on cross-border digital trade.

Business groups have been clamoring for various solutions, one of which is the approval of the Open Access in Data Transmission Act to promote competition among telcos and our data service providers in the country.

There is a clarion call for the Senate to approve Senate Bill 1763 or the Open Access in Data Transmission Act.

This legislation aims to improve access to efficient and affordable data transmission services by promoting the sharing of infrastructure and services among service providers.

The bill talks about a regulatory framework to address the gaps in our existing laws that do not align with changes in technologies.

We can have decentralized, distributed and redundant data services that are consistent with how the internet works.

Since the last decade, we have been asking authorities to clarify and strengthen the role of the NTC, especially at this time when it is crucial in a digital environment. The role of the “C” in ICT when it used to be just “IT” has become more imperative.

Digital trade will use significant amounts of data services and the scale should allow service providers in that business to roll out Wi-Fi services all over the country and promote regional and inclusive progress for the Filipino people.

In fact, the long awaited and promised government services in the barangays can be delivered.

Of course, we will need the robust applications and technical architecture to be in place. No amount of fast internet can deliver the service functions if there are weak or shaky business applications. And, who knows? Maybe, we can make the ease of doing business also work.

The country will need to deal not only with the brick and mortar businesses but the MSMEs who will be doing online businesses.

This pending Open Access in Data Transmission Act can give our country a dynamic and competitive telecommunications and data services sector. For our telco reform challenges, it is understandable that the solutions can come from changes in policies, operations, the social system and technologies.

Of course, the technology changes are way ahead of the requisite changes needed in policies, operations and the social system.

The solution cannot be addressed in a single stroke like a long-awaited third telco.

The third telco, in case it is awarded by the DICT, will still need access to existing infrastructure of government, the existing two telcos and other smaller broadband service providers.

We cannot ignore that digital trade is here and it is in our interest to ensure a solid business ecosystem for the benefit of our people. 

The social system transformation may no longer pose the biggest challenge because digital natives are everywhere.

The changes needed are in different regulations where there are obsolete provisions not aligned with the technological revolution. 

Even the notion that the Philippines has a strong environment for digital trade and does not have significant restrictions on cross-border data flows is not all true.

Hinrich Foundation noted in a report titled Data Revolution published recently that in the “Digital Trade Restrictiveness Index” developed by the European Centre for International Political Economy, the Philippines has “significant restrictions in place” with regard to its openness to foreign investment in digital sectors. 

The SEC requires that only Filipino nationals may own the commercial operation of an online platform to market or sell third-party products and services. Therefore, it will be an impediment to foreign-owned digital operations which are opportunities for direct investments in the country.

But let us leave all these to our newly elected congressmen and senators who will review and make their stand for a supportive digital age.

Happy Independence Day!

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