MANILA - The Philippines is lagging behind some of its neighbors in Southeast Asia when it comes to adopting digital technologies, according to a new study conducted by the World Bank and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).
The study titled “A Better Normal Under Covid-19: Digitalizing the Philippine Economy Now,” showed that the use of technologies such as digital payments, e-commerce, telemedicine, and online education has climbed in the Philippines due to the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the Philippines remains behind Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and even Brunei in the use of digital technologies by businesses, the government, and citizens.
The study also said the rapid adoption of digital technologies can help the Philippines recover from the COVID-19 crisis, and become a middle-class society.
World Bank Economist Kevin Chua, lead author of the report, said increasing digital adoption by the government, businesses, and citizens is critical to help the Philippines adapt to the post-COVID-19 world, and achieve its vision of becoming a society free of poverty by 2040.
“In this society-wide digital transformation, the government can take the lead by speeding up e-governance projects, such as the foundational identification system and the digitization of its processes and procedures, which will help promote greater inclusion, improve efficiency, and enhance security,” said Chua.
NEDA said the pandemic has shown how important digitalization is to the economy.
“As we are now living with the new normal, the use of digital technology and digital transformation have become important for Filipinos in coping with the present crisis, moving towards economic recovery, and getting us back on track towards our long-term aspirations,” said NEDA Undersecretary Rosemarie Edillon during the presentation of the results of the joint study.
DIGITAL DIVIDE AND SLOW INTERNET
Besides trailing its neighbors in the use of digital technologies, the Philippines also needs to solve the “digital divide” between those with and without internet connections, the study said.
This digital divide leads to unequal access to social services and life-changing economic opportunities, it said.
“Upgrading digital infrastructure all over the country will introduce fundamental changes that can improve social service delivery, enhance resilience against shocks, and create more economic opportunities for all Filipinos,” said World Bank Country Director for the Philippines Ndiame Diop.
Diop, who is also the World Bank Country Director for Brunei, Malaysia, and Thailand said the Philippines has clear challenges in the lack of internet access especially in rural areas.
“Internet connectivity – the foundation of the digital economy – is limited in rural areas, and where they are available, services are relatively expensive and of weak quality,” Diop said.
The study said that at 16.76 Mbps, the Philippines’ mobile broadband speed is much lower than the global average of 32.01 Mbps.
It also noted that the average download speed in the Philippines was 7 Mbps, while the average for the region was 13.26 Mbps.
Recent government efforts to speed up the rollout of mobile network infrastructure through a common tower policy are steps towards the right direction, said the report.
The Department of Information and Communications Technology meanwhile said the National Broadband Network project can help provide cheap internet access to rural areas.
However, DICT Assistant Secretary Emmanuel Caintic said the agency is struggling to convince Congress to allot funds for the project in the 2021 National Budget.
"If government will allow and give us more money for the next phases, then we can propagate even more,” Caintic said.
Chua meanwhile said the passage of the Public Service Act would bring in more foreign investments in the telco sector, which could help competition and improve services.
He said the requirement of a congressional franchise for telecommunications services should be reviewed, as most other nations only require proper licenses from regulatory bodies, eliminating the need for time-consuming legislative hearings on permits.
- With a report from Warren de Guzman, ABS-CBN News