Need: digital infrastructure, e-governance
Moving fast forward into the digital age will be the revolutionizing side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the imposition of quarantine restrictions in the movement of people and business operations, majority of Filipinos have learned to embrace digital technologies as part of the new normal.
The National Economic and Development Authority, in its report “We Recover as One,” cited that online retail, online banking, online medical consultations, and digital payments will increasingly become a necessity rather than a convenience.
The report also noted that a reliable digital infrastructure system with strong cybersecurity protection is vital in sustaining the operations of private companies, health facilities, schools, government agencies, and micro, small, and medium scale enterprises in a cloud-based economy.
The pandemic has also highlighted the need to bridge the digital divide across municipalities, cities, and regions. To bridge the digital gap between richer and poorer areas, we need a robust and obsolete-proof digital infrastructure that will facilitate responsive, citizen-centric e-governance that fosters sustainable growth.
According to a report by the Oxford Business Group published last March, some 29 million Filipinos are not connected yet to the internet. It also cited issues of affordability, availability, and speed of internet services, whether broadband or mobile data.
Now is the time to build the towers and broadband networks—and we need to build them fast. Both the national and local governments should focus on incentivizing, instead of bureaucratizing, digital infrastructure projects.
The latest State of the Internet/Connectivity Report by Akamai Technologies ranked the Philippines last among 15 countries surveyed in the region. The Philippines also placed 100th out of 149 nations with an average connection speed of 5.5 mbps (megabits per second); this is only half of the 2019 global average of 11.03 mbps.
The national government must identify the policy and bureaucratic roadblocks that discourage private sector participation in digital infrastructure projects. Local governments should collaborate with the national government in truncating the corruption-prone bureaucratic chokers that delay digital infrastructure projects.
The public-private partnership framework can be harnessed to optimize the technical expertise and resources of the private sector to bridge the digital divide. Responsiveness and adaptiveness are two indispensable competencies of modern-day governments that can be delivered with technological solutions that deliver efficient and transparent public services.
A bill seeking to establish policies, regulations, and public health safeguards for the “better normal” in the workplace, public spaces, and communities has recently passed on second reading.
If enacted into law, the bill will mandate the Department of Information and Communications Technology to fast-track the progressive and full implementation of the National Broadband Plan by immediately establishing and implementing a nationwide information and communication technology action plan that will involve all stakeholders, including major and small telcos, internet service providers, and developers of technology and digital applications.
The proposed measure seeks to widen and improve connectivity not only to fight against COVID-19, but also to address the long-term needs of the country.
But the government cannot do it alone. We must harness the potential of the private sector and the public assets of the country. The government must decisively break the bureaucratic barriers that prevent us from harnessing the benefits of the digital economy.
We can build forward only with collaboration and a firm commitment to responsiveness and transparency. Through responsive and collaborative governance, we would be able to efficiently and effectively address citizens’ real needs, especially the poor and underrepresented amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Dindo Manhit is founder and managing director of Stratbase Group.
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