IT’S early days for the newly minted Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT). In the midst of a six-month transition that will see the absorption of all existing ICT-related units, the new department is probably still finding its legs.
It isn’t too early, however, for the DICT’s first secretary, Rodolfo Salalima, to articulate the directions that his department will take, and to let us know where his priorities lie.
Salalima, a classmate of President Rodrigo Duterte during their San Beda days, was named DICT secretary in June.
A brief perusal of his background shows that Salalima, a lawyer, is certainly qualified to lead the department, which is tasked to formulate and carry out policies aimed at developing ICT in the Philippines.
Before he was named DICT secretary, Salalima served as the president of the Philippine Chamber of Telecommunications Operators, Inc. and board director of the Telecoms Infrastructure Corporation of the Philippines. He was also a member of the executive committee of the National ICT Advisory Council.
In 2011, Salalima was tapped as the Asia Pacific representative and one of the vice chairmen of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Council Working Group for the Amendment of the ITU Constitution and Convention based in Geneva, Switzerland.
In 2015, the UP Law Center published his book, “Telecommunications in the Information Revolution,” a compilation of laws and jurisprudence on telecommunications and insights into the fundamental issues of the internet revolution.
Salalima began his 40-year-old career in ICT as the board director and corporate and chief counsel of Radio Communications of the Philippines (RCPI) and as vice president and head of legal and human relations of International Communications Corp., which became Bayan Telecommunications Holdings, Inc. (Bayantel).
But most people who are familiar with the telecommunications industry will associate Salalima with Globe Telecom, one of two giant carriers that have dominated the market by acquiring smaller competitors and blocking the entry of larger ones that might upset the applecart.
At Globe, Salalima served as senior vice president for corporate and regulatory affairs until his retirement in 2008. Salalima’s association with Globe did not end with his retirement, however.
The company has engaged the services of the Salalima, Castelo and Ungos law firm, which argued in favor of the Globe’s acquisition of Bayantel and opposed rebates or refunds for consumers who do not get the broadband speed they are promised.
It was Globe, too, along with its rival in the duopoly, the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT), that threatened to tie up Australia’s Telstra in lawsuits if the company pursued its $1 billion joint venture in the Philippines to offer them real competition. Telstra pulled out of its joint venture talks with San Miguel Corp. in March 2016, and SMC announced in May that it would be selling its telecommunications assets—most notably its right to operate in the coveted 700-megahertz spectrum frequency—to Globe and PLDT.
Given all that has gone before, we can probably be excused for wondering what sort of policies will the new DICT secretary pursue.
For instance, will the new DICT secretary encourage true competition in the industry that will give consumers more affordable and better choices? Or will he fall back on what he has done at Globe, and protect the existing players to the detriment of their customers? Will the DICT aggressively protect consumer rights, or will it seek to appease service providers?
These are questions the DICT secretary ought to answer even at this early stage.
Under the existing duopoly, it’s been widely accepted that internet service in the Philippines is among the slowest in the world, even though we pay more for it than most folks.
The 1st quarter 2016 State of the Internet report from Akamai Technologies does little to change this impression, with the Philippines tied with India at the bottom of 15 Asia-Pacific countries in terms of average connection speeds. Only 18 percent of Philippine internet users connect at speeds above 4 Mbps (compared to 23 percent in India) and a paltry 2.7 percent connect at speeds above 10 Mbps.
Clearly, the existing duopoly has not served Filipino internet users well. The new DICT chief needs to tell us how he will improve this dismal picture. Chin Wong
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