By Marifi S. Jara, Mindanao Bureau Chief

THE BUSINESS sector is appealing to President Rodrigo R. Duterte to issue an order that will ease the licensing requirement on satellite access to speed up the delivery of internet services, especially outside major urban areas.

“We are pushing for the signing of a new executive order on satellite access liberalization to effect an immediate, expanded internet coverage and to improve productivity,” Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) President Benedicto V. Yujuico said on Thursday.

This means an internet service provider (ISP) can offer broadband connection using satellite technology without getting a congressional franchise.

“We are the only country in the world that requires a congressional franchise to establish a satellite broadband company. We are using outdated regulations that hinder the entry of more players in the broadband industry,” he said during the virtual opening of the Mindanao Business Conference 2020.

Mr. Yujuico said this would benefit areas outside urban centers where the rollout of telecommunication infrastructure is too costly for private companies. 

This change in telecommunication policy, he said, should be made part of the government’s infrastructure development program amid coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Our geographical layout as an archipelagic country makes the internet even more crucial to our recovery,” he said.

Mr. Yujuico said many micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), which make up 99.5% of business establishments in the country, were “caught unaware and have not been able to leverage on the internet economy and rising digitalization” prompted by the COVID-19 crisis due to limited internet access.

The Philippines ranked 66th out of 85 nations in the 2020 Digital Quality of Life Index released by information technology firm Surfshark Ltd.

Among Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines trailed Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia in terms of internet affordability and quality.

Under Republic Act 10929 or the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act, the Department of Information and Communications Technology can partner with the private sector to meet and the program’s targets.

Section 6 of the law allows existing ISPs to “acquire and utilize internet connectivity directly from satellites and other emerging technologies to ensure universal coverage, which when used to provide internet connectivity shall be considered value-added services.”

Mr. Yujuico said an expanded opening of satellite access is one infrastructure intervention that the government can do to help ensure business survival and continuity.

“As with agriculture, infrastructure has multiplier effects and economic benefits that are higher than any fiscal intervention.”

Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr., told an online news briefing on Thursday the PCCI’s proposal requires a comprehensive study.   

“That needs a comprehensive study because as we know, the use of these resources are subject to the grant of a franchise issued by Congress,” he said in mixed English and Filipino.

He added that an executive order could infringe on the powers of Congress. — with inputs from Gillian M. Cortez