As avid users of social media, it goes without saying that Filipinos have quite the online presence. And because of the way COVID-19 has changed our day-to-day lives, we’ve been spending more time than ever online.
And while our tastes in memes, political opinions, and favorite online celebrities may differ, there seems to be one point of discussion that unites Pinoys: internet speed. To be more specific, how slow the internet is here in the Philippines.
What the internet means in a changed world
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, practically everyone has had to change the way they go about their daily lives.
Whether it’s about managing their businesses, paying the bills, or pursuing their studies, Filipinos (and the rest of the world, for that matter) have been getting used to online means of getting things done. Indeed, internet access has gone from being a convenience to becoming a necessity. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to enjoy it.
Recently, Senator Grace Poe pointed out that only 30 percent of the 73 million internet users in the country have access to mobile internet services. She also mentioned that only four percent of all Filipinos have the capacity to subscribe to broadband services.
In other words, millions will likely get left behind in what everyone is calling the “new normal”—especially with remote learning, remote working, and online shopping seemingly becoming the norm.
Is the Philippines’ internet speed really “okay”?
Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Secretary Gringo Honasan recently opined that despite the low average internet speed in the Philippines compared to more developed countries, it isn’t that bad.
The Speedtest Global Index indicates that the Philippines has an average internet download speed of 16.44 Megabits per second (Mbps) for mobile devices, and 25.34 Mbps for broadband services as of August of 2020. Back in 2016, broadband speed was pegged at just 7.91 Mbps. Still, a quick scroll through social media will reveal at least one rant or witty jab aimed at local service providers.
In comparison, Malaysia has mobile and fixed broadband speeds of 24.69 Mbps and 87.90 Mbps, respectively. Vietnam has an average mobile speed of 33.61 Mbps and a broadband speed of 55.20 Mbps. Meanwhile, speeds of 34.08 Mbps (mobile) and 173.41 Mbps (broadband) appear to be the average for Thailand.
Filipino citizens and lawmakers seem to agree, though, that the country’s current internet speed just isn’t reliable enough. This is particularly evident now that regular conference calls, synchronous online classes, or even just casual gaming have become a staple for us.
Among other things, the slow internet speed we experience has been attributed to the relatively scarce number of telecommunications towers in the country. This, in part, is due to the long and tedious approval processes for their construction. As such, internet access can be very limited for some, especially those in far-flung rural areas.
Life in the online-driven new normal
As someone who’s had to enter college in the midst of the pandemic, I learned most of what I know about recent developments from within the confines of my bedroom.
My brothers and I have struggled with getting things done entirely from home. Before the academic year started, one of my siblings was busy attending online meetings and orientations about the distance learning methods he and his fellow professors would be adopting. The other worked in front of his work computer for most of the day, occasionally yelling in frustration whenever our unstable Wi-Fi connection would mess up his work. Meanwhile, I was busy handling documents for scholarships and college enrollment processes.
All three of us had to share a broadband connection that wasn’t even that reliable to begin with. And of course, other people have it much worse.
Every so often, you’d hear or read about teachers having to set up their work stations outside their homes, or students who have to trek to high areas in their communities just to get a good signal. For these people, “just okay” isn’t good enough, because other factors also influence online accessibility.
In the end, whether or not the current speed we have is “okay” largely depends on who you ask. For some, it is; for others, not so much.
But until we reach the point where every Filipino has fast, reliable, and stable online access, the rants, complaints, and passive-aggressive memes will keep coming.—MF
Author: Mark Jefferson Plata
Jefferson is a college freshman, and a neophyte in the professional writing scene who is looking to further improve himself in the field. Besides the standard adolescent habit of wasting away in front of a computer or phone screen, he enjoys reading, watching, and learning about pop culture, science, gaming, as well as a wide range of other interests.