Tabo Internet

“One morning in December the steamer Tabo was laboriously ascending the tortuous course of the Pasig, carrying a large crowd of passengers toward the province of La Laguna. She was a heavily built steamer, almost round, like the tabú from which she derived her name, quite dirty in spite of her pretensions to whiteness, majestic and grave from her leisurely motion. Altogether, she was held in great affection in that region, perhaps from her Tagalog name, or from the fact that she bore the characteristic impress of things in the country, representing something like a triumph over progress, a steamer that was not a steamer at all, an organism, stolid, imperfect yet unimpeachable, which, when it wished to pose as being rankly progressive, proudly contented itself with putting on a fresh coat of paint. Indeed, the happy steamer was genuinely Filipino! If a person were only reasonably considerate, she might even have been taken for the Ship of State, constructed, as she had been, under the inspection of Reverendos and Ilustrísimos….” – Jose Rizal,The Upper Deck, El Filibusterisimo

This is one of my favourite chapters in Rizal’s EL Filibusterisimo. It perfectly captures the universal inequality of things in the world. The steam ship Tabu or taboo is the perfect image of among other things the state of Internet connectivity in the Philippines. Tabo is a Filipino word for water dipper initially from coconut shell, which progressed to an empty can and presently plastic complete with a handle. It is used to get and pour water when bathing and effectively washing any body part that needs to be washing. The Tabo is standard in most Filipino houses and is an alternative to the toilet paper or TP.

This explains why in Rizal’s Novel the steamship Tabo struck a chord. Imagine a ship named after the implement that helps one to wipe his ass. Rizal is very droll.

I am reminded of the good steamship Tabo when a few weeks there were tweets and FB posts reacting to the state of the Internet in the Philippines. And this could be dumped up in the phrase unequal, stratified, and divided – the Great Digital Divide.

This is nothing new. Studies have time and time mentioned the divide and stratification. The state of the our Internet is like Rizal’s steamship Tabo – ‘ quite dirty in spite of her pretensions to whiteness, majestic and grave from her leisurely motion”.

And like the steamship Tabo the Internet we can have differs – different depending on one’s economic class. Some are on the upper deck enjoying a derive that tries to be first class from time to iimd. And the great majority are located below deck suffering and enduring slow, bad or no Internet concoction.

The challenge of closing the gap in the digital divide is not an easy problem to overcome. Some believer hat market forces and commerce would eventually drive the extinction of this gap/ But as we can see the divide is not only in the connection but on consistent speed – in other words the quality of the service. And here market forces must be aided no strengthened by the concept of the Internet as a utility and not just a value added service. Something that has been consistently called for but sadly falls o the deaf ears of the National Telecommunication Commission.

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