By Ali G. Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – The United States government, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), assists public and private sectors in enhancing internet affordable access in the Philippines, the American embassy in Manila said.
In a statement sent to the Philippine Muslim Today news on February 4, the embassy said USAID-Philippine Acting Mission Director Jeff Goebel has joined Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Acting Secretary Emmanuel Rey Caintic in leading a virtual dialogue on government programs and private sector business models that can boost internet affordability and address digital inequality in the country.
“USAID is working toward a future where digital technology promotes inclusive growth, fosters resilient and dynamic societies, and empowers all, including the most vulnerable,” the embassy quoted Goebel as telling more than 600 dialog participants.
Goebel added: “(Narrowing) the digital divide requires global cooperation, leadership, and innovation in finance and technology. This is a need that is even more crucial today as we continue to face the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
While the cost of one gigabyte (1GB) of mobile data in the Philippines has become more affordable over the past five years, 1GB mobile broadband remains unaffordable for just 40 percent of Filipinos. Only about half of the country’s population uses the internet due to high prices of data services and devices, and limited network coverage, said the embassy statement.
DITC Acting Sec. Caintic, for his part said: “Our main challenge is the coverage of quality and affordable internet services, especially in remote locations. With wider coverage, Filipinos can access information and participate in rebuilding the Philippine economy.”
Dialog participants noted that promoting infrastructure sharing, improving national data collection, and encouraging interconnection and peering, among others, could help address these challenges, the embassy said.
Technologies and strategies to maximize bandwidth and optimize energy consumption are keys to lowering costs, even as partnerships with government agencies such as the Department of Education and civil society organizations to bring education programs to remote areas can also help bridge the digital divide, it added.
Through its Better Connectivity and Access (BEACON) project, USAID helps improve the Philippines’ ICT logistics infrastructure; strengthen the regulatory, business, and innovation environment; and bolster cyber security, it said.
To help close the digital divide, USAID also helps the government in automation and digitization efforts, and supports community networks to expand low-cost internet access for underserved communities, the embassy statement said. (AGM)