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Harnessing new technology to address connectivity

Digitalization has provided new and greater opportunities for growth and development. In fact, the United Nations said that emerging digital technologies can provide opportunities to bridge the rural-urban divide. People living in rural areas can have better quality of life through improved access and internet connectivity — the lack of it however will further not only the digital divide but also socioeconomic inequalities.

President Bongbong Marcos realizes both the opportunities and challenges of digitalization. During his first State of the Nation Address, he stressed, “As the world moves into rapid digitalization, the digital divide will become more pronounced… This will open new opportunities for the creation of wealth but will also likely create inequalities. Hence, universal connectivity will be a vital component in order to ensure that no citizen is left behind.”

Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Secretary Ivan John Uy said that the President’s directive is to provide digital connectivity across the country, and the Department will do so by building and improving the country’s digital infrastructure.

The DICT will expand connectivity in the underserved and unserved areas. It will ensure that accessible, fast, reliable, and affordable internet is made available to every Filipino.

Many still lack access to internet connectivity and devices. In the 2019 National Information and Communications Technology Household Survey (NICTHS) done by the DICT together with the Philippine Statistical Research and Training Institute (PSRTI), it showed that 48 percent of individuals use the internet, but only 18 percent of households have access to it.

In line with this, the DICT is facilitating a nationwide inventory of communications infrastructure, in coordination with the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and Public Telecommunication Entities (PTEs), to identify the unserved and underserved areas of the country by August.

One of the challenges in ensuring universal connectivity is the Philippines’ archipelagic nature. Which is why the DICT welcomes new technology, such as satellite connectivity, to reach areas of the country where laying fiber cables or establishing cell towers prove to be challenging.

Recently, Secretary Uy and SpaceX Executive Rebecca Hunter explained the features of Starlink, a satellite internet constellation operated by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which is expected to roll out in the country before end of the year. It boasts speeds of up to 200 Mbps and latency as low as 20ms for residential use.

This technology will provide connectivity in unserved and underserved areas, especially where existing telco providers cannot reach due to aforementioned challenges. This is where the government comes in using the technology of Starlink, which is expected to connect rural and remote communities where connectivity is unreliable or completely unavailable, or Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas (GIDAs).

As of mid-2021, Starlink is comprised of over 1,600 satellites. But the company aims to have as many as 42,000 satellites to be able to deliver high-speed, low-cost internet to remote regions across the globe.The Philippines is set to be the first in Southeast Asia to avail of Starlink. SpaceX is targeting to deploy three gateways in the first phase of their launch in the country.

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