Digital divide persists after 18 years of Philippine Internet

Dr. Rudy Villarica, project administrator of Philnet, the initiative which sought to connect the Philippines to the Internet. Photo by Gio Bacareza

MANILA, Philippines — Unbeknownst to many Filipinos, March 29, 2012 marked the 18th year since the Philippines was first connected to the Internet back in 1994.

But almost two decades after, most Filipinos still do not have access to the Internet, much more high-speed broadband Internet that have come to be associated with economic progress over the years.

In a blog post back in February, technology enthusiast Jim Ayson narrated that his 2001 piece for the Philippine Daily Inquirer paper narrated how ComNet engineer Benjie Tan made the country’s first connection to the Internet 18 years ago.

Ayson’s decade-old article told of how Tan single-handedly hooked the Philippines up to the Internet that night when he installed the necessary router that would link the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) to the Sprint network in California.

Once he had successfully connected the two networks — and, subsequently, the Philippines to the Internet — Tan reportedly posted the following message to the soc.culture.filipino newsgroup at Usenet, consider the precursor to message boards and social networking sites today:

“As of March 29,1994 at 1:15 am Philippine time, unfortunately 2 days late due to slight technical difficulties, the Philippines was FINALLY connected to the Internet via SprintLink,” the message read.

“The Philippine router, a Cisco 7000 router was attached via the services of PLDT and Sprint communications to SprintLink’s router at Stockton Ca.,” Tan added.

But despite being one of the earlier ones to hook up to the Internet, it seems the Philippines has not made so much headways in terms of giving most Filipinos access to it, creating the so-called “digital divide” which has plagued many emerging economies since the dawn of computers and the Internet.

In fact, according to the Yahoo!-Nielsen Net Index 2011, Internet penetration in the country has remained stagnant at 30 percent in the last three years, growing only in major urban centers such as Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao.

18 years on, most Filipinos still have no access to the Internet, which has already been deemed a human right by the United Nations. In fact, Internet penetration has been steadily declining in Mindanao since 2009.

The now-defunct Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT) had vowed through its Philippine Digital Strategy (PDS) to provide universal Internet access to all Filipinos.

However, with the shelving of the CICT and the subsequent junking for the PDS, the future of the Internet in the Philippines remains a question no one in government is willing to answer.

“The question is, is anyone still counting?” Ayson asked. “Today’s Internet is as much a necessary a household utility as power and water that we have taken it for granted.”