POLICYMAKERS need to revisit and rethink the scope of power of the Department of the Information and Communications Technology (DICT), according to a study of state think tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS).

Established in 2015, the DICT is a government agency tasked to develop policies and plans for ICT development in the country. It exercises broad powers over telecommunications and broadcasting, data privacy, consumer protection and the promotion of trade and investment in ICT and ICT-enabled services (ICT-ES). Among its attached agencies are the National Telecommunications Commission, the National Privacy Commission and the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordination Center.

According to PIDS consultant Lai-Lynn Barcenas in her policy note “ICT Regulation and Regulatory Authority,” the law establishing the DICT has “insufficient guidance on the scope of the agency’s authority.”

Barcenas noted that some of the functions of the DICT overlap or are incompatible with those of other departments. For instance, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) still governs the promotion of trade and investments on e-commerce, the improvement of ICT skills of the labor force and network security and connectivity.

The DICT has absorbed some of the functions of the Postal Regulation Division, which regulates courier delivery services. However, these delivery services include online payments, which may properly be under the jurisdiction of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

Also unclear is the DICT’s extent of authority over other components of the ICT sector such as telecommunications and broadcast information operators, ICT equipment manufacturers, multimedia content developers, IT solution providers, internet service providers, ICT training institutions, software developers and ICT-ES providers.

The inadequacy of laws in ICT and the vagueness of the DICT’s scope of power have resulted in certain barriers in the country’s trade and investment on ICT services, Barcenas said.

One of the barriers noted by the author is the tedious application process in securing a legislative franchise and a certificate of public convenience and necessity, among other permits and licenses. It takes an average of five years to process these documents, slowing down investments in the telecommunications services.

Another issue is the constitutional limit imposed on foreign ownership of telecommunications, broadcasting, mass media and advertising firms.

The 1987 Philippine Constitution also prohibits foreign nationals from practicing their professions, specifically those needed in the ICT services. These provisions restrain the entry of foreign capital, technology and skilled human resources that could spur ICT development in the country.

The author urged the government to strengthen the DICT’s role in ICT matters by defining the extent of its functions and clarify the role of DTI in promoting e-commerce. She also recommended the removal of unnecessary requirements in the establishment and operation of telecommunications and broadcasting services providers, particularly the need for a legislative franchise. (PR)