Wanted: True, high-speed broadband in the Philippines

The Philippines is home to greedy telcos known for slow, substandard and expensive services. These telcos put out slick advertisements, charge high fees and nail unsuspecting subscribers down to contracts for as long as 30 months. And yet, they do not deliver the minimum, for instance, of broadband internet speeds. Customer service – the one which actually listens, responds and fixes customer complaints – is virtually non-existent.

Broadband internet is defined in most parts of the world as high-speed internet. The minimum varies, like 4mbps in the United States and 1mbps in Finland. But even if we grant 256kbps as the minimum for Philippine broadband internet speed, the telcos would still fail the test.

There is no significant difference in the delivery of broadband internet whether via wired or wireless connection. Both are usually the subject of earnest prayers by subscribers each time they turn on their modems and computers. There is no assurance that they would in fact be connected and get decent high-speed connections.

The telcos hide behind phrases such as “burstible speeds” or “up to 2mbps speeds” to cover up their inability to deliver constant speeds of even at least 256kbps. Thanks to these phrases, the telcos can get away with monthly fees they charge, without fail, for substandard, non-high-speed, worse-than-dialup broadband internet service.

The telcos should be ashamed of themselves over this. Each quarter they boast of billions of pesos in net income and even crown themselves the nation’s best business managers or customer service experts. The reality for their subscribers however is that they enjoy these profits by hoodwinking the public, by charging fees for virtually-undelivered services. They derive income from pre-termination fees that penalize subscribers whose fault is to stop their bad service. They appear not to earn a peso of their net income in an honorable way. We do not begrudge these telcos their “right” to rake in profits but they should deliver good services, first and foremost.

Yes, folks, the fundamental problem is the unbridled greed of the telcos who want to get a fast buck every day regardless of the quality of service they actually give their subscribers.

This problem is made worse by a government that has failed to uphold its mandate to regulate telecommunications in the interest of the Republic and its citizens. Yes, there is a deregulation policy and a deregulation law that encourages telcos to compete among themselves. What many see, however, is that they compete for the biggest profits and in delivering the worst services. The government is not doing its job in monitoring whether the telcos are following the letter and spirit of the legislative franchises and permits granted to them, in protecting the public against unfair terms (pre-termination fees and excessively long contracts, for instance), oligopolistic practices (especially in pricing) and other consumer welfare concerns.

What do we do now? We must stand up and demand an end to this madness. Government must impose a basic standard of broadband internet service for both wireless and wired connections. There must be clear-cut rules on the mandatory granting of rebates for each day a telco fails to deliver to a subscriber either the basic standard or his/her subscribed speeds. The provisions for “burstible speeds” or “up to Xmbps speeds” should be scrapped as the description for the speeds of all the telcos’ broadband offerings. Consumers should not be penalized for opting out of bad services – pre-termination fees should go. Government should also cut down the length of minimum contracts for new and existing subscription and make the Philippines at par with regional neighbors – a one-year contract may be enough.  

Everyone benefits if these changes are considered and adopted. Government, businesses and consumers would enjoy – at last – true broadband internet and make them work for politics and government, business and whatever other purpose they have in mind. The telcos meanwhile would be able to make full use of their equipment and bandwidth to provide the best products and services and earn the trust and favor of consumers.

The alternative is to continue to pay for bad services and let the telcos  earn dishonestly and the government to not do its job.