Will Elon Musk Save the Philippines’ Slow Internet?

Mar 16, 2021 | BIZ, NEWS, Philippines, TECH, US

Elon Musk ©Daniel Oberhaus

Converge, a Philippine-based internet provider is in talks with Elon Musk’s SpaceX for a potential collaboration in the country. According to Converge, the plan is still in its premature stage. Do you think it can finally give Filipinos the reliable internet they deserve?

Slow, expensive, and unstable – that’s the internet in the Philippines. For years, people have been wishing for this struggle to end. News of the collaboration between American billionaire Elon Musk and internet tycoon Dennis Anthony Uy is giving people a reason to keep their hopes up. Uy’s brand Converge is set to carry Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corporation or SpaceX broadband satellite to the Philippines.

About the Deal

Representatives from both companies have met multiple times to discuss the business venture. The potential collaboration came amid the ongoing deployment of SpaceX’s satellites, which orbit at a lower altitude, therefore promising faster internet. Starlink is part of SpaceX’s massive project to have 12,000 broadband satellites orbiting the planet to give people more stable internet services. 

Currently, Starlink is catering its beta services to limited domestic and international customers, with its 50 to 150Mbps speed. SpaceX wants to provide near-global coverage in 2021. 

This news may seem very promising, but it seems it’s still too early to celebrate. 

“The cost at this point is quite prohibitive for the regular subscriber. It’s about $500 just to set this up, or about P25,000. Having said that, that’s not necessarily a bad thing because there’s probably a niche market that will be able to afford this technology. And we are also looking forward that, in the future, with more subscribers, the cost will go down,” said Senator Grace Poe, who calls for the passage of Senate Bill No. 1831 or the “Better Internet” bill.

The bill seeks to mandate internet providers to consistently give people better services. It proposes a staggering Php2 million penalty for non-compliance – a far cry from the current Php200 penalty.  

“The current penalties are too low. So, it will not be a prevention from other telco companies to keep violating. It won’t prevent them, it won’t discourage them from violating,” Poe added. 

Despite her statement about the expensive charge of the internet service, she also said that the cost will go down if the number of subscribers goes up. 

Slow Internet in the Philippines

The country placed 119th out of 139 on Ookla’s Speed test in August 2020, with its 16.44Mbps speed for mobile downloads. For broadband, the Philippines got the 106th spot out of 174 with its 25.34 Mbps speed. These numbers may seem big but it is considered snail pace when compared to South Korea’s 113.01 Mbps for mobile, and Singapore’s impressive 218.07Mbps for broadband.

But Why Is the Philippines’ Internet So Bad?

The Philippines is an archipelago made up of more than 7,000 islands, therefore making it extremely hard to construct fixed networks around the country. Not only that, building cell towers is an expensive and time-consuming process. Investors have to get past multiple layers of bureaucracy before they can get a permit. This includes the local barangay, city, province, and several national agencies. On average, around 25 to 30 permits are needed to construct just one site tower which takes almost a year to build. 

Although the Philippine government is making an effort to improve the internet connection in the country, especially in a time when most people work from home, most of the burden is still passed on to private sectors.

Will the Philippines Finally Have a Reliable Internet?

There is also a withstanding monopoly in the country when it comes to internet services, and it includes PLDT and Globe. Recently, a new player from China, Dito, has been granted a 25-year license to operate, although people are yet to find out if it’s efficient. Compared to PLDT and Globe, Uy’s company Converge offers more competitive plans but it’s only available in major cities. 

In a time when reliable internet is crucial, the Philippines still continues to lag behind countries around the globe. Hopefully, new technologies can allow Filipinos to be more connected in the future.