Most people who use the internet in the Philippines know the frustration of the service provider messing up. Sometimes, there is completely no connection, and other times, there is some kind of firewall that seems to slow down downloads. We are promised megabytes/second downloading speeds, but when it comes to our beloved pirated Torrents, we have to make do with a speed of 40 kilobytes/second. To have it at 200 kb./sec. already seems like a godsend.
We look for options everywhere, but we are limited to only several providers, such as PLDT, SkyBroadband, Globe, Smart and Sun, wherein we have to make do with the least bad as opposed to the best.
When Cito Beltran airs his grievances on the matter, we are likely to relate, perhaps even side with his conclusion that the solution lies with Congress and other governmental means. He points to the supposed effectiveness of the senators with regards to the 'drop-call' and 'load expiry' issues. I have already dealt with the whole Enrile gimmick that helped his reelection bid, noting that the knee-jerk measures as pushed by those in Congress do not get to the heart of the matter and merely try to remedy symptoms of the problem that is government intervention.
And so it's the same old story. But allow me to expound anyway.
There is a tendency to refer to the profit motive in a sneering sort of way, even though there is no alternative to acting for the sake of profit. Of course, what Beltran is trying to say is that these telcos try to deceive people into paying for what is actually shoddy service. It seems as though marketing wizardry is ultimately about deception, and getting one over the customer.
How many times have you, the reader, hesitated to use a product that you have had bad experiences with? And how many times has it happened that, having no alternatives, you settled for what you felt was lousy, but relatively decent, service? And have you ever had the chance to switch to a better brand that finally satisfied you?
The quest for an alternative, i.e. better service is not one that would exclude the profit motive. As I said, profit-seeking is a fact of life. CEOs do it. Salesmen do it. Wage earners do it. And by profit, we need not merely refer to monetary gain, but also to emotional satisfaction.
Accepting the profit motive as a part of all human affairs, we must now see how it could be applied to the greatest advantage of both buyer and seller. The key here is eliminating restrictions to competition. Competition is what progress is all about. Nothing encourages the raising of quality and the lowering of prices, as competition does.
But surely I'm not ignoring the quite apparent dismal internet services available? How does such inefficiency, in spite of four or five big brand names involved, come about?
Inefficiency could only be perpetuated - and as a result, tolerated by consumers - when barriers to entry exist. Such barriers include congressional franchising and hefty costs of regulation. Only when competition is absent or lacking is it possible for companies to profit by "intentional inefficiency," as Beltran calls it.
But the solution, of reducing such government interference, is not so quick to come by. After all, we have to recognize the misnomers and semantic follies involved especially when it comes to the matter of 'laissez faire.' Many who talk about the free market, deregulation and the like, whether this be in criticism or in praise, miss the implications involved in their premises as to what constitutes freedom.
For example, Republic Act No. 7925, the Public Telecommunications Law of 1995, is viewed by many as what brought about the "deregulation" of the telco industry, allowing for the cheap cellphone services we take for granted today. Perhaps compared to having a total monopoly such as Marcos-era PLDT, the telco sector is 'freer.' But by no means could we call it a deregulatory act. It is full of restrictions that do not make for better services but instead stunt the application of innovative technologies.
The law, even with the constant modification of implementing rules, could not possibly keep up with changes that come about through free association among people. RA 7925, just 15 years old, strikes us as positively archaic, what with its references to "radio paging," and not a single mention of the internet or even computers. And if Congress takes it upon itself to constantly amend the law to stay in tune with technology, this would be quite self-defeating. Not only could it do nothing more than be reactive (as opposed to proactive, which is the forte of the risk-calculating entrepreneur) to changes, but it will always serve to limit the options that companies could take. After all, if the law favors a certain 'modern' technology, this only makes it that much harder for a more future-oriented profit-seeker to compete with the status quo. 'Responsive' legislation in fact makes for conformity, as opposed to innovation. I am not even considering the problem of vested interests seeking political privileges via legislation, or those that bribe their way to get all sorts of "public-private" projects.
What I see as a real solution to poor internet service in the country is to reduce the restrictions that are especially hard on the upstarts, who now not only compete with established players, but also face all sorts of taxes and fees to even stay alive. And apart from the costs of starting a business, the major stumbling block for the smaller companies is to acquire a franchise in the first place. A franchise requires political connections, as opposed to the ability to satisfy consumers which a free market provides. The granting of concessions or franchises by the government is premised on the belief that the space where messages are transmitted is owned not by individuals in the way that houses and shoes are owned, but by 'the people,' i.e. the government and the political class. So we also see here how the concept of congressional franchising is contradictory to the concept of private property.
A telco regulator would probably scoff at such an assertion, and say that without franchises, various telcos would interfere with each others' signals, each claiming ownership. The government, so it is claimed, gives order to the airwaves and whatever the hell cellphone signals are transmitted through.
But such a problem could be said to preclude ownership of any property. If another person breaks into one's house, this would constitute interference such as what may occur in telco channels. If we are able to establish ownership of houses and cars and ballpens, then surely ownership can be established for frequencies, with violators subject to the same sanctions. The main difficulty would be arriving at initial ownership, by which the homesteading principle is applicable.
So now we see that franchises are actually unnecessary, and are an additional hindrance to competition that makes for quality services in any field.
A major part of the solution to the sucky internet problem, would be to get the National Telecommunications Commission out of the way. Read for yourself in RA 7925 how much of a hassle it makes for business, all the while collecting fees that do nothing to promote a healthy business environment.
When all this true deregulation is done, may the most able company prevail, one that best serves customers and justly profits from its endeavors.
Too bad Beltran refers to "social justice," which is a ridiculous term if you think of it. How would "social justice" be any different from "justice"? Is there any difference? Is individual "justice" any different from "social justice"? So why add the "social" when referring to justice? Doesn't justice refer precisely to a social context?
So let us suppose Beltran means justice. This justice would have to be achieved not by further regulating an already crony-filled sector, but in fact, by getting rid of government controls. What we do need more of, is recognition of private property. This means allowing people to put up businesses and own their channels by which all sorts of information are transmitted, without the consent of the political class. This would truly open the ISP sector to competition and bring us the services that we have long desired.