CHR lauds Senate push for better internet, says limited online access triggers ‘digital divide’
MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has warned that the inaccessibility of the internet for a lot of families may trigger the start of a digital divide — widening the gap of inequality among rich and poor.
CHR Spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia explained on Wednesday that this is why the commission supports the Senate’s latest push for making online access a priority with Senate Bill No. 1831, or the Better Internet Act — which mandates telecommunications companies to continuously expand their services and network infrastructure.
Under the proposal, internet service providers and telcos are required to allow a minimum data download speeds of 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) for fixed broadband and 5 Mbps for mobile or wireless broadband in highly urbanized cities.
Other cities would have 5 Mbps and 3 Mbps of fixed broadband and wireless broadband, respectively; while rural areas will have 3 Mbps and 2 Mbps.
“As digital technology become integral to almost all of the government response to the health crisis—from accessing health care information to work-from-home arrangements, distance learning, e-commerce, and other alternatives—the use of the internet is crucial in helping Filipinos cope with the pandemic and move towards economic recovery,” De Guia said.
“If the problem remains unresolved, the Commission underpins how digital divide is threatening to become the new face of inequality—reinforcing the social and economic disadvantages suffered by the most marginalized and vulnerable sectors of our society,” she added.
According to De Guia, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the long-standing digital divide between the rich and the poor, as a lot of things done online — which makes dealing with the health crisis easier — are mostly available to people with internet and mobile data access.
Most of the things that limit possible exposure to the coronavirus — from buying from online stores and doing contact tracing through smartphones — can only be done with sophisticated gadgets and stable internet connections that are usually not available to poor families.
Online classes have become a bane, too, for students from low-income families as even using modules sometimes requires them to go online.
Such gaps should be addressed, CHR said, especially since the United Nations has already declared internet access as a human right.
“In a time when the majority of the population are forced to stay home, the internet has been championed as the remedy in approaching the new normal. But the reality is that not everyone has access to the internet. And for those who do, they cannot enjoy the quality and a stable internet connection,” De Guia explained.
“This proposed policy affirms the importance of technological advancements in nation-building, economic development, and promoting people’s well-being through the provision of citizen-centric information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructures,” she added.
Internet speeds have been a recurring problem in the country, with even President Rodrigo Duterte himself frowning at slow internet and bad reception in the country, threatening telcos with expropriation if services do not improve before 2020 ends.
While an internet speed testing app has already noted that the country’s internet speeds are returning back to pre-pandemic levels, it is still notably slower than that of the country’s Southeast Asian neighbors. [ac]
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