Waving the red flag on the third telco

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ONLINE freedom along with Internet access was declared by the United Nations as a right that must be upheld and protected.

The international body explained that Internet access is an extension of the right to freedom of expression, as it has become a medium of communication today. 

But it’s a long way to go for the Philippines in its fight for a decent Internet connection that comes with a reasonable price. Counted among countries in the Asia Pacific with the slowest Internet connection, it has undeniably become a major frustration for Filipinos who use the Internet for personal, academic and business matters.

Recently, the bid for a third telecommunications provider was won by Mislatel, a consortium owned by Davao business tycoon and supporter of President Duterte, Dennis Uy. 

The entry of the third Chinese-related telco was perceived to break the “duopoly” of PLDT-Smart and Globe Telecom, that would force them to lower costs as well as improve the quality of connection for faster Internet. But having China and Internet in one sentence is quite unsettling. 

China Telecom partnered with Mislatel Corporation to get around the constitutional provision that 60 percent of local firms should be owned by Filipinos to do business in the country. The telcom is owned and controlled by the Chinese government. 

Beijing, to whom Duterte has shown great favor, is known to have the most advanced cyber-surveillance practices such as content-filtering which prohibits access to Google, Facebook and other foreign sites. Using the internet provided by a telco company closely linked to the world’s most advanced surveillance state is clearly a red flag.

Amid the issues on how Mislatel won the bidding while the two others were disqualified, critics posited that it seemed like a road was paved for China to enter the Philippine cyberspace. We cannot discredit the fact that China is outright claiming our territories in the West Philippine Sea. So, will having a Chinese-related telco really not impinge on national security?

The 2017 Freedom on the Net report showed that only Philippines is “mostly free” among Southeast Asian countries due to limited censorship. However, the report also noted that Philippines had high proliferation of “opinion shapers” of the government. 

Although Philippine media is mostly free compared with its Southeast Asian counterparts, it has yet to combat the threats of fake news and internet trolls. How can it now do this when it allowed a Chinese-dominated telco provide its internet?

Internet service providers, such as Globe Telecom and PLDT-Smart, blame the lack of information communications technology (ICT) infrastructure, which hinder them from improving the speed and quality of their internet connection.

The importance of quality Internet connection not only vital as one’s right but also to the Philippine economy. For instance, poor connection affects the business process outsourcing industry that is heavily reliant on the internet to perform transactions.

However, this is hampered by the lack of ICT infrastructure, Chinese threat on national security and proliferation of “opinion-shapers” of the government. Undoubtedly, it is an unfair game that both telcos and consumers play for Internet access in this country. Quality Internet access and connection is a right. 

The state should be reminded of its duty in delivering and protecting this, not in conniving with China for cyber-surveillance activities. But alas, as many of our rights often disregarded in this administration, do we expect this government to deliver? 

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