Expanding Internet Services Through Satellites

Program Year: 2021

The Asia Foundation hosts webinars on satellite technology use for key sectors

The Internet is a critical driver of economic growth, now even more so with the imperative digital transactions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in the Philippines, the 2019 national ICT survey shows that only 18 percent of households have access to the internet, with the highest proportion concentrated in highly urban areas like the National Capital Region.

The Asia Foundation supports the use of emerging internet technologies to provide internet access to underserved and unserved communities. In the Foundation’s 2018 research publication, From Analog to Digital: Philippine Policy and Emerging Internet Technologies, low earth orbit satellite networks were identified as a viable and feasible technology for the Philippines. “The distinct value of satellite broadband comes from its potential to offer a cost-effective connectivity solution in areas that traditional terrestrial networks find difficult, if not impossible, to reach,” says Grace Mirandilla-Santos, ICT policy analyst.

On March 10, 2021, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 127 “Expanding the Provision of Internet Services Through Inclusive Access to Satellite Services.” This order updates the country’s satellite policy and liberalized access to satellite broadband technology. The new policy allows small internet service providers to directly access satellites, effectively removing restrictive market entry barriers and promoting internet connectivity. To raise awareness about this landmark policy and highlight practical use cases of satellite technology, The Asia Foundation co-organized webinars in partnership with critical institutional partners on economic recovery, financial inclusion, digital education, and telehealth.

In economic recovery and finance, proponents discussed how satellite technology could facilitate access and adoption of digital payments, benefiting small businesses and individuals in remote areas. Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Secretary Gregorio Honasan emphasized the need for this transformation: “[The DICT is] onboard with the goal to facilitate financial inclusion especially since the use of digital and online banking has been on the rise during the state of a public health emergency.”

Meanwhile, in the digital education webinar, advocates raised how satellite technology bridges the educational divide by providing the connection necessary for remote learning. On telehealth, healthcare professionals highlighted how satellite internet encourages the development of telemedicine programs, such as providing care to isolated patients in the pandemic. According to Dr. Aileen Espina of the Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC), there is a need to “better harness ICT not only for an effective COVID-19 response but also for achieving Universal Healthcare in the Philippines”.

The Foundation has co-hosted four webinars with the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (Central Bank of the Philippines), Ateneo de Davao University, and HPAAC. Collectively, the four webinars drew more than 700 targeted participants from government, civil society, the private sector, and the public. Through these webinars, The Asia Foundation and its partners hope to show the potential of satellite internet as a connectivity solution for the underserved and unserved areas. After all, access to the internet is a powerful tool in encouraging inclusive economic recovery and growth during the pandemic and beyond.

Related locations: Philippines

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