Information and communication technology or simply "ICT" refers to technologies associated with the transmission and exchange of data in the form of sound, text, visual images, signals or any other form or any combination of those forms through the use of digital technology. It encompasses such services as telecommunications, posts, multimedia, electronic commerce, broadcasting, and information technology.
Current trends the world over pointed to the fact that major developments in the information economy. It resulted in revolutionizing the way people communicate and for governments and firms to interact and conduct business. The ICT revolution most specifically the internet alter the ways people around the world communicate, live, learn, play and work.
The presence of a reliable, accessible and affordable Philippine information and communications infrastructure is a necessary condition for our participation in the information economy. Without it, the Philippines will once again face the prospect of being marginalized in the global economy. With it, we stand the chance of becoming a cyber-tiger in the new economy. The question is, how prepared are we?
Philippine ICT Infrastructure
How ready is the Philippines to harness the benefits being offered by information and communications technology? What follows are facts and figures that would attest to the expanse of information technology hardware and infrastructure in the country.
Personal Computers are Key
Like many other developing countries, the Philippines still pales in comparison to other nations in terms of personal computer (PCs) penetration index. This measures the ratio of the number of PCs installed relative to the country's population. Data culled from the international Data Corporation showed that the number of PCs installed in the Philippines as of last year reached 1.37 million which is barely two percent compared to the total Philippines population. This is quite ironic as the Philippines' top exports is electronics to include the microprocessor that is often referred to as the "brain of the PC."
Interestingly, 69 percent of those PCs were found in private businesses throughout the country while only 13 percent are found in households. Government offices and educational institutions accounted for only 10 and 6 percent, respectively.
Connections to the Outside World
Because of the rather low PC penetration rate, internet usage is also minimal compared to our neighbors in the region. Internet penetration in the country was recorded at only 3.7 percent, a figure that was greatly surpassed by neighboring countries Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Citing figures from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), only 2 percent of the total Philippines' population is connected to the Internet. The country trails behind ASEAN neighbors Singapore with its 24.9; Malaysia has 15.8 and Thailand has 3.8 Internet penetration rates. However, the Philippines fared better than Indonesia at 0.9; Vietnam at 0.3 and Laos and Cambodia at 0.1 penetration rates.
Meanwhile, figures released by the National Telecommunications Commission cited that a total of 204 registered Internet Service Providers (ISPs) operate in the country as of year 2001. It has an estimated 900,000 subscribers equivalent to around 4 million users. The figure is twice as large to that of the data results of a survey conducted in the year 2000 by AC Nielsen, a market research firm. It found out that the Philippine Internet population (those with internet access) numbered around 400,000 subscribers and are mostly found in the urban areas of the country.
Records from the NTC also cited that only around 50 percent of the total municipalities in the country have Internet access. Internet cafes was also placed at more than 3,000 but are mostly situated in highly urbanized areas of the country.
Reasons cited for the seeming low Internet access include high cost of PCs, high Internet access rates, lack of telephone lines and unstable or at times dearth of electric power supply.
Access to Electricity
In order to allow more people greater access to computers, adequate infrastructure especially electricity and telecommunications facilities are vital. Data from the National Electrification Administration showed that only 80 percent of all Philippine barangays are energized. Western and Central Mindanao as well as the ARMM are the areas where supply of electricity is still wanting.
As regards the telecommunications industry, telephone density stood at only 9 telephone lines per 100 persons as pointed out by figures from the National Telecommunications Commission. This translates to around 7 million installed lines catering to more than 3 million subscribers. Region IX, XII and ARMM have the least telephone density index among the areas of the country.
Twice the number of landline telephone subscribers are the cellular phone users. They totaled more than 6.3 million for a penetration rate of almost 15 percent.
What is encouraging is that industry experts treat the dearth of some support infrastructures as a challenge. They are collaborating with the government in developing the infrastructure necessary to uplift the country's ICT sector. The most common scheme adopted is through the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) Scheme.
KEY AREAS OF SKILL SHORTAGES
Positively, however, what we lack in IT facilities and infrastructure, we make up in skills and talents. Time and again, Filipino IT experts are among the best in the world. In a survey by the Far East Economic Review in September 1999, the Philippines ranked second to India in terms of quality, cost and availability of skilled IT workers in Asia. As recognition of the knowledge and skills of Filipino IT experts, they are very much in demand in many parts of the world.
The IT Study report found out that in view of the expansion initiatives of ICT players, in-demand skills would be in the following areas:
THE GOVERNMENT'S RESPONSE
It is very gratifying to note that no less than President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had declared that "ICT will be our leading sector for economic growth". She also emphasized that she expected "ICT to be the key to finding our proper niche in the global village in the 21st century". It is noteworthy that the present government had put emphasis on ICT as the catalyst that propelled diffent economies throughout the world to undergo transition from a resource-based society to a new information-based society.
The government in coordination with the private sector must lead in the development of information and communications technology infrastructure. This would support high speed connectivity so that the use of ICT could expand and reach the greater majority of Filipinos. Review of existing laws and policies as well as the formulation of new ones must be undertaken in order for ICT development to prosper. Old laws based on paper and ink technology must be replaced with ones that are more friendly to digital technologies and services. The activation of the Information Technology and E-Commerce Council (ITECC) chaired by no less than the President showed the government's firm resolve to advance ICT progress in the country.
Highlighting the government's steadfastness to advance information and communications technology in the country is the bill certified by urgent by the President. It is still being deliberated in Congress and calls for the establishment of the Department of Information and Communications Technology. This would merge the communications functions of the present Department.