Dr. William Torres proposed connecting to the Internet as early as 1992. He approached former Department of Science and Technology Secretary Ricardo Gloria, who later agreed to fund this initiative putting Dr. Rodolfo Villarica in charge. This led to the creation of PH-Net. Internet-based email was already available at this time.
This is one of the stories featured in the Philippine Internet Review: 10 Years of Internet History where we interviewed Dr. Torres.
We considered Dr. William Torres as the Father of the Philippine Internet. His persistence and patience paved the way for the Internet connectivity we are enjoying today. (Although some have referred to him as "grandfather". For us, that meant he is the "father".)
Janette Toral (JT): Ten years ago, have you envisioned that the Internet will reach its present state today?
Dr. William Torres (WT): It has gone beyond my expectation. At that time, I see it as simply a tool for communication and accessing information. That’s all. But now, because of its useful application in businesses, the Internet has gone a long way. It is now the sole infrastructure if not for most businesses today.
JT: Which sector do you think has benefited the most from the Internet?
WT: It is the private sector. A lot have shifted their business to ICT-based. To a certain extent, some educational institutions have benefited.
JT: How would you describe the Internet evolution in the past 10 years?
WT: The first five years was about building the infrastructure. The main application was email and surfing. On the 2nd half, there was a growing sophistication in the application of the Internet, e-commerce took place. The World Wide Web (WWW) is the application that gave rise to enterprise-type of application.
In the past we are more interested in access. People would simply access the Internet and do whatever they want. However, people began to realize that there’s a purpose to access and putting up content, websites, and portals became more important. The Internet user is not interested to anything not of value or can contribute to increase in productivity.
The dotcom mania is in response to that expectation, that any content that they will produce will be accessed by people. They became wise. They are more interested in the value of information to their lives and to their work. Use it in education, use it business. The idea of cycles is not true, there’s a rise and end. It has to do with if people don’t get what they want or expecting, then they will be disappointed.
JT: What do you think are the reasons why the Internet has not taken off to a greater extent compared to other countries?
WT: One deterrent in the Philippines is that access is not taken for granted. Broadband is here but still expensive. We’re not moving as fast as we should in our infrastructure. The price of International Private Line (IPL) then is not only expensive, but it was in short supply. There’s a glut now that made it inexpensive. Being able to distribute bandwidth in the country, interconnecting different provinces, is still expensive though.
On another aspect, I can’t precisely agree that we are behind as projected by international reports. The measurements or criteria used in ranking developed, underdeveloped, and developing countries should not be the same. The telephone density for example, the Philippines can’t catch up as it is assessed now. It is usually measured at the number of telephone per 100 persons. It should be based on access, like how far or near a person is from a payphone. On the Internet, we are measured on access taking place from the home. We need to factor shared community access, then our number of people with Internet access will grow.
JT: With telcos competing with traditional ISPs today, how is Mozcom coping and keep its organization strong?
WT: We are shifting to value-added services. It is not true that we will remain strong. We will have to change our direction, moving from access to value added services. The strength will come from our being able to innovate in the same way that the WWW is an innovation of the usual applications of the Internet. It gave birth to numerous applications like e-commerce. We need to move on from the usual things that we do to new things.
Mozcom has 200 branches and partners before. More than half closed because they are no longer viable due to telcos penetrating the market. We are in 40 to 50 locations at the moment and maybe reduced to 10 in the next 10 years.
JT: I noticed that you are quite active in promoting e-learning. What would encourage schools to really consider it?
WT: We have to push for it more deliberately. We’re interested in applications that have nationwide impact. That is why we support e-government, e-commerce, and education.
Education needs help now and address a big problem of our country. Innovating is the only way to go. It is difficult to put up a fight with the telcos as they own the infrastructure. ISPs should now take the attitude that they can play together with the telcos. If everyone is into connectivity, the big players will win on the small ones. But on the area of value added services, there’s room for competition due to possible number of applications.
JT: What are the things that should take place in order for full Internet adoption be realized in the country?
WT: There are numerous challenges that need to be addressed. This includes:
The country’s current broadband map only tells us where we have access. It should focus on capacity and actual connectivity. The Commission on ICT can mandate this. A map should be able to describe the flow from Cebu to Manila, Davao to other points.
We need to have proper resources for our E-Commerce Law and Intellectual Property Rights laws be fully implemented. This includes having a functioning computer emergency response team.
We need to have a Convergence law that will allow us to integrate and make use of the different infrastructure like broadcast, cable, and satellite in developing and deploying applications. Although this is partly mentioned in the E-Commerce Law, the government agencies concerned did not come up with guidelines to implement that.
We still have piracy. We can’t really capitalize on our intellectual property if we don’t respect those of others. If we pirate software and content, ours can be pirated as well. Investment flow to our country is restrictive until our laws are properly implemented.
The Republic Act 7925 does not allow VAS providers to offer voice-related services. This has to be improved in order to make VOIP an easy-to-access and affordable commodity to all. At present, only telcos can offer this service putting ISPs at a disadvantage and unable to maximize the full potential of its Internet infrastructure.
In the next ten years, the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT) can serve as focal point. We can consolidate our laws, policies, implementing rules and regulations in such a way that it can foster better competition and breed innovators to the use of the Internet for business.
The Internet per se may not profitable but its application in various forms in business, education, government, value may create more wealth to our country.
JT: But how about the private sector? It seems that the ICT community is very fragmented today.
WT: One of the many things we should do is to think of ourselves belonging to an industry. We should cooperate to make ourselves as better competitors. We must be active and strong in recommending policies. If we are a united industry, we could have a stronger voice in lobbying. Not only complaining but really explain from A to Z.
Internet security was only advocated by a few. It should have been promoted as an industry. Only if we have a strong association, people would listen to us more.
With the CICT, and hopefully becoming a Department of ICT in the future, we can now hold a department responsible for the industry concerns.
Reporting directly to the President, we don’t have to go to multiple agencies. Hopefully, the future will be better.