Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Is it worth it?: Rubbish internet in the Philippines

I noticed it's been just over a year since my last comprehensive and reliable analysis of the cost of living in the Philippines that I didn't bother comparing to anywhere else, so here's another aspect of daily life I have almost enough experience with to write about authoritatively: Wi-Fi (or as it's known colloquially around these parts, "f*** off, dino!")

For some background, the Philippines apparently has one of the slowest and most expensive internet offerings in the Asia-Pacific region. That list doesn't include some territories such as Cambodia, Myanmar and East Timor (the other Catholic country in Southeast Asia that the Philippines is always forgetting about), but when you're trying to gain points by scraping those barrels, you know you're in trouble. That's like when they celebrated escaping the bottom 10 list of the most corrupt nations in the whole world. There were probably fiestas.

I make my living online, but that doesn't mean I know much about how it works. Still, travelling all over Asia (the cheap bit anyway) and connecting to Wi-Fi in my hotel rooms or stealthily checking emails several times a day around the corner from various cafes I strategically ate at on consecutive days to accumulate passwords, I am in a position to compare. Philippines internet is rubbish even if you're staying at a tourist-friendly hotel or condominium. When you're actually living among the people, it's a nightmare.

I live a few minutes from the highway in the fourth most populous city in this country. In terms of internet coverage it's the next thing to being in the jungle. I've had more reliable connections on remote islands. Here is my harrowing story of survival.


PLDT? More like "[bloo-] 'dy 'ell, dear me," right? Cheers.

I didn't want to go with PLDT, since I'd read more than enough horror stories about how universally terrible they are (that blog makes mine look like Philippines Department of Tourism propaganda by comparison). But since they've ruthlessly secured their position as market leader through nefarious processes you can read about here to save me the trouble of paraphrasing technical things I don't understand, they seemed to be a necessary evil (wow, he actually used the word - look how easy I'm making this for you, legal team).

We might actually have signed up for a dreaded two-year minimum contract if their guy had showed up within 15 working days like he was supposed to (that deadline expired on 9 March - I'll update in the comments if he ever finds his way here). But when my wife borrowed someone's PLDT modem and tried it out, it didn't seem to work anyway. There isn't any infrastructure around here for us to have a wired connection, so we might as well go mobile and enjoy relative freedom to change month-to-month as providers rise and fall or when some new foreign saviour arrives (won't happen).

We did try to cancel the appointment over the phone, to get ourselves out of their system, avoid inevitable spam promotions forever and avoid wasting their technician's time like they'd wasted ours, but we were told they couldn't do that. We were advised to let nature take its course and just tell their technician to go away if he ever arrives. What an insightful promotional teaser this has been. Imagine if we'd actually signed up for this shit!

2. Globe

I was targeting the mid-to-late '90s BBC Schools Modern Foreign Languages TV nostalgia niche, but the internet doesn't remember Globo so I had to draw him from memory.
N'est-ce pas?

Globe is somehow owned by or affiliated with PLDT, so you can expect an identical quality of service. We used Globe mobile broadband during our year-and-a-bit stay at a more centrally located condo, which was fine in terms of reliability, but imposed a slightly annoying 800MB daily limit (there's no unlimited option) for just ₱999/month. That's £15.04 / US$21.62 / AU$28.42 if you want to compare.

It also sadistically limits torrent speeds to a maximum of 15.0kbps, which is fair enough because: a) that's still enough speed to use up your daily limit, and b) because that's stealing anyway, come on. Still, it's amusing to see PLDT/Globe promoting legit streaming services such as the recently arrived Netflix, as if most of their customers will actually be able to use them.

We tried Globe's mobile broadband again for a few days when we moved in here, but there isn't very good coverage (we're still within the city limits of the provincial capital, did I mention that?), so we had to look elsewhere. I just remembered we also arranged for one of their technicians to come around and test our suitability for a modem connection (again, no hard line available). He set off a few days after the PLDT guy, I wonder who'll make it to our door first? No doubt with excuses about the traffic.

3. Smart

I didn't realise at the time this was Neil Buchanan, him what done the Art Attacks

I think this is an independent company. Even if I didn't currently have to reload every page three times, I still couldn't be bothered to find out. I'm not being paid for this rant.

When Globe failed, we tried out Smart's basically identical mobile Wi-Fi offering (Filipino businesses always copy each other until someone's driven out of business). It worked better in our area, but would only reliably connect and reach decent speeds at certain times, and those times happened to be in the early hours of the morning when most of the customers swarming around the congested network were presumably asleep and not downloading three quarters of their daily limit's worth of TV to get it out of the way.

Remember, husbands, to always get permission of the wife whose phone's portable hotspot you're using so she won't be mildly annoyed to see the battery drained in the morning.

4. Sun

Not going to help you out with this one

Like PLDT/Globe, I think Sun is Smart under a different name to give us idiots the illusion of fair competition. But there must be a slight difference, as Sun's mobile Wi-Fi fails to connect slightly less often than Smart's, so for the time being we're using that.

There is one major problem with Smart/Sun, namely that sometimes, seemingly for no reason, certain innocent websites are blocked on their networks. They either refuse to show up at all, as was the case with PayPal during February, or only load in limited plain text form, regardless of whether high-bandwidth stuff like YouTube is working fine, invariably when you need to make use of the site's multimedia features for your bloody job (sorry about that again boss, I found another site that worked just as well).

So far it's only websites that have been critical for my work or accessing my money that have fallen victim to this. If I'd completely lost my grip on reality, I'd think the Philippine internet was personally taunting me. But that would be crazy. No wonder there's so much superstition here, it's the only way life makes any sense.

There's also an annoying Captcha authentication process I have to go through to prove I'm not a bot before I'm allowed to access various arbitrary websites. This apparently means that when my (virus-free) computer switched to the Sun network my IP address instantly became untrustworthy and associated with spam attacks, so that's nice to know. Like there aren't enough websites flat-out blocking access from the Philippines already. I can only assume we deserve it.

See you on the other side of sanity, amigos! Keep on rockin' in the free world godbless xoxo


  1. You have made me thankful for my decent internet connection all over again. Thank you UK internet providers, for only making me want to swear every few months rather than every few minutes.

    1. You can also be grateful for those evil electricity companies, since at least you have more options to choose from than ONE, and (unless things have become more post-apocalyptic since I left) they don't switch off your power at random times every day because they failed to provide the infrastructure to meet the demand of a growing city and you have to suffer for it.

      I'm definitely getting solar panels. Considering how sunny it is, it would be idiotic not to. The electricity company uses hydroelectricity that keeps drying out and is now building more coal plants. Like I said, idiotic.