When tech fails

Technology does not always result in improvements in the quality of life of people.

I distinctly remember shelling out P16,000 to be one of the very first owners of a DVD player in the Philippines many years back. The resolution of the DVD was not even high-definition, but it offered the best picture quality at the time while being many times smaller than its predecessor, the Laser Disc.

Blu-Ray discs, capable of full high-def videos, have supplanted the all-but–dead DVD, but are themselves bound for obsolescence as a deficient platform for data-storage intensive 4K and 8K resolution movies and gaming titles.

There will always be takers among the cost-no-object circle for the newest gadgets that technology has to offer. That’s why Apple and Samsung are always whetting consumer appetites with flagship evolutionary-not-revolutionary smartphones nearly every four months because there are buyers.

In the case of Elon Musk’s fledgling Internet service through his Starlink network of mini-satellites, the price of entry may be too steep when it achieves full coverage of the Philippines by the middle of the year, especially if Musk is targeting people in the provinces.

According to previous statements by Starlink Internet Services Philippines, a wholly owned subsidiary of Musk’s mother company SpaceX, Starlink may come onstream by December this year.

The bureaucratic spadework has been done, too, with the National Telecommunications Commission, confirming as early as last May that Starlink’s Philippine subsidiary has already received its certificate of registration as a value-added service provider.

But for a service — the Internet — that Filipinos are already enjoying, it’s not like Starlink will be offering a novelty in a country where satellite TV never really gained as much of the pie as cable TV, notwithstanding the latter’s generally inferior picture quality.

Filipino consumers would be asking what’s the point of getting Internet via Starlink if the same, at speeds that are already catching up with the fastest in the region, are available via the telcos.

In that July press briefing, Starlink spokesperson Rebecca Hunter said theirs would be a high-speed, low-latency satellite Internet service with 100Mbps to 200Mbps download speeds.

Compare that to Google Fiber’s maximum advertised speed of 2,000Mbps in the United States and Starlink’s numbers are not really “high speed” compared to others. Then there’s the cost. The Starlink router kit would cost P33,000 on top of a projected monthly bill of P5,500. Ouch!

There’s a disconnect between the pricing and villages and rural areas that are being targeted to be served by Starlink.

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Technology does not always result in improvements in the quality of life of people. Take for example the many problems being faced by motorists passing through the automated toll booths in and out of Metro Manila.

The fact that tollways operators have deemed it necessary to put up 24/7 consumer complaint offices on tollways is a testament to their tech providers’ failure to live up to their promises.

Among the many complaints swamping tollway operators are electronic cards and strips that regularly become unreadable by the scanners that control the automatic barrier booms, leading to long queues.

“The system is inaccurate,” a woman behind one of the toll booths that accept both cash and e-payment tells a motorist complaining of disappearing loads. “File a complaint there,” she added without empathy. “There” was on the other side of the road, however, southbound when the motorist was going northbound.

It’s time tollway operators bring back those people manning the toll booths until such time they can put in place e-payment systems that are not as problematic as the present ones motorists are being inconvenienced with.


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