Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute
Can you imagine buying a piece of property without provisions for electricity or water?
These days it is unthinkable that residential or commercial spaces would not automatically have power or water. It is a given that using a specific area would entail the use of these utilities. Spaces would be useless and the most sophisticated architectural designs on the best locations would mean nothing without them.
We should think of internet connectivity the same way. It is no longer a cool or nice thing to have the way it was decades ago, before the dawn of the Information Age.
Over the years, the internet has become an indispensable tool not just for work and commerce, but also our personal lives. When the pandemic forced people to stay indoors and limit their mobility, the internet helped provide a sense of normality, as it allowed us to continue working, thus keeping the economy running albeit at a scaled-down rate. It made possible our children’s education from the relative safety of our homes. It enabled us to perform the chores we used to do by physically going out — buying food and groceries, doing our banking errands, and staying in touch with friends and family.
As we now pursue economic recovery and development, the question is no longer whether the internet would be part of it, but what connectivity quality is required to function well and achieve our goals.
This is the reason property developers and managers have to change the way they look at provisions for digital connectivity in their projects, whether these are vertical or horizontal developments. After all, they do not charge for electricity and water equipment; why should they charge telco providers for lease space for the radio equipment needed to provide signal in their area?
In fact, developers should help telcos install their last-mile equipment like cell sites and fiber cables because their owners/ tenants stand to benefit from better connectivity. It would also make the property more attractive to prospective buyers or lessors.
No less than the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) is supporting legislation seeking to provide better internet services for Filipinos, aligned with the administration’s push for universal connectivity and digital transformation.
DICT Secretary John Ivan Uy, said they are supporting the Housing Development Digital Connectivity Bill (House Bill No. 4472) that seeks to provide network infrastructure space, both in subdivisions and high-rise buildings. He also wants the National Building Code amended because it only requires the provision of electricity, water, and sewerage, but not telecommunications.
At the Senate, Senator Grace Poe has filed Senate Bill 329 or the Better Internet Act, which requires service providers to adhere to minimum standards for connection, reception, pricing, and billing practices.
The bill also requires telco providers to comply with a minimum download speed — not an advertised maximum speed — to make sure consumers get what they pay for.
Senator Poe believes that the internet is a necessity that is as indispensable as electricity and water, because people rely on it for health, education, business, governance, and more.
Integrating the necessary digital infrastructure in all property developments should be a new standard that government should impose to align with a national broadband strategy.
Indeed, only digitally ready communities will empower our people to prosper in this global transition into a highly digital economic system. Thus, developers should make it their business to provide fast and reliable internet connections in their respective developments, instead of refusing to allow cell sites and restricting access to fiber cable installations. As early as the planning stages, they should make room for telecommunication infrastructure in the same way that electrical and water, as well as electromechanical, plumbing, sanitation, and other aspects are considered.
Real estate developers and telcos must see themselves as partners who must work together to ensure that residents enjoy reliable, fast, and inexpensive internet services.
Internet connectivity is a basic human right. In her December 2020 essay for World Human Rights Day published on the United Nations website, Anne-Marie Grey, executive director and CEO of USA for UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said digital connectivity should be a human right because it enables access to information, education, and opportunity.
And according to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 9 (SDG 9), “Investment in infrastructure and innovation are crucial drivers of economic growth and development.” Essential to sustainable development is technological progress which is key to long-term solutions to address environmental challenges, in providing new jobs, energy efficiency, sustainable industries, scientific research and innovation.
We always say nobody should be left behind in our economic recovery and development. Thus, our digital journey must start in our backyard. To strengthen a nation, we must first empower our communities. Our quest to become a truly digital nation begins with all Filipinos having access to reliable internet service in the very places where they live and work. This is essential to our sustained recovery of our industries and the economic empowerment of our people.
This article was originally published in BusinessWorld.