PSAC drives PH internet infrastructure overhaul

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

The Private Sector Advisory Council (PSAC) has articulated a blueprint to revamp the Philippines’ internet infrastructure during its April 19 meeting with President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., marking the fifth engagement between the administration and the business council.

Sabin Aboitiz, PSAC’s lead convenor and head of Aboitiz Group, chaired the meeting, with key digital infrastructure sector figures such as Henry Aguda of UnionDigital Bank, Ernest Cu of Globe, and Al Panlilio, the former head of PLDT-Smart.

“By aligning the private sector’s strengths with the government’s supportive mechanisms, we are setting the stage for a rapid and sustainable enhancement of our nation’s connectivity,” Aboitiz said in a press statement.

PSAC’s proactive stance comes on the heels of a World Bank report, which ranked the Philippines near the bottom on the 2023 International Telecommunication Union (ITU) ICT Development Index.

To counter this, PSAC presented a set of legislative and policy changes, as detailed by Cu during his “State of the Internet” address. These include streamlining permit processes for telco projects, providing power to telco towers, revising spectrum fees, and amending the national building code to favor ICT and telecom ventures.

“Telco and the internet must be widespread, robust, and meaningful, enabling full participation in the digital economy. Currently, policy gaps hinder expansion into rural and underserved areas,” Cu underscored.

The government has set a target to enhance internet penetration to 65%, a significant leap from the current 33%.

Despite these aspirations, state investments in digital infrastructure have lagged, with the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) allocating PHP7.6 billion over six years, compared to the private sector’s hefty spending — Globe Telecom alone has expended PHP265 billion in capital and PHP236 billion in operational expenses within three years.

PSAC has urged the government to earmark at least PHP240 billion for infrastructural advancements and is advocating for a joint venture to erect 35,000 new cell sites, alongside the strict enactment of Executive Order No. 32 to streamline permitting.

Additionally, PSAC has proposed an annual PHP60 billion allocation for DICT to facilitate internet access across public facilities, thereby fortifying the nation’s digital ecosystem.

Highlighting the sector’s potential to generate employment, Aguda called for cohesive actions between the government and private enterprises, emphasizing the need for a Presidential directive to harmonize training and job promotion efforts aiming to create 1 million digital jobs by 2028.

PSAC’s initiative underscores a concerted effort to pivot the Philippines towards a digitally competitive stance in Southeast Asia, ensuring inclusivity and broad access to the benefits of a digital economy.