With an Internet speed averaging 3.6 Mbps, the Philippines slumps way behind its fellow Southeast Asian countries as the slowest in the region, as shown in “The Cost of Internet in the ASEAN +3 Region” infographic recently put together by MoneyMax.ph, a comprehensive online platform that compares telecom and financial products and services.
But in what appears to be a defiance of the current state of affairs, the Philippines is also leading among its neighbors in terms of earnings from online work, according to freelance talent marketplace Upwork.
Digital transformation The increasingly connected nature of the global economy has since placed the Internet front and center, allowing talent the world over to reach out to businesses on the other side of the globe without ever leaving their homes. Fields like customer service have quickly adapted to online work, embracing the medium as the way of the future.
According to Upwork data, Filipino freelancers earned up to $99 million in 2014, and the number is still growing. It also reveals that based on freelance earnings in the Philippines, the top categories are administrative professionals, sales and marketing, and customer service.
“Part of their success as online freelancers is their proficiency in English. Filipinos possess great talent in language and communication, which is why they excel in customer service and similar fields,” says Ron Cirujano, Upwork Country Manager. “Many businesses around the world have already realized the importance of enlisting freelance customer service representatives to help them save time and keep their customers happy 24/7. Filipinos have proved to be a great fit for their customer services teams because of their mastery of the English language as well as their dedication to their work.”
Filipino resourcefulness amidst a lagging situation With the Philippines undergoing a digital transformation in almost all sectors, Filipino freelancers are learning to make smarter use of their available resources to gain more reliable Internet access. This is in light not only of the sluggish Internet speed, but also of the occasional typhoons and power outages that cause interruptions for several hours, even days.
As of now, no single broadband provider can sufficiently ensure consistent and fast connectivity for home users. To overcome this, many Filipinos are taking advantage of a growing list of options to connect to the Internet, such as portable WiFi hotspot devices, mobile Internet data, as well as WiFi service in restaurants and cafes. Particularly with the use of portable WiFi, independent professionals can choose to switch to faster Internet if their current home broadband is lagging, or work in a location where the service can get better signal strength.
Despite the challenge presented by the country’s dismal Internet speeds, more Filipinos continue to find work online because of its inherent freedom and flexibility—benefits they wouldn’t otherwise have in a traditional workplace.
Many talented Filipinos are able to seize opportunities for sustainably gainful employment online while fostering professional growth. A skilled customer service freelancer in Upwork, for instance, can make over $16.50 an hour on average. Many have managed to build careers and successful businesses out of online work, catering to clients’ various
consultant needs. Still, the current Internet infrastructure greatly limits the potential that Filipino talents can achieve, not to mention the advantages they can enjoy through online freelancing. And while their resourcefulness allows them to work around the situation, it is at the expense of having to make extra payments for additional subscriptions or usage privilege in establishments that offer WiFi. This last point is important to make, given that Internet services in the Philippines are also among the most expensive in Southeast Asia with an average monthly price of P1,155 per Mbps, based on the MoneyMax.ph inforgraphic.
It is in view of inclusive growth that the government across all its levels should support legislations and initiatives that aim to improve the country’s woeful Internet speed. In the end, investing in better telecommunications infrastructures won’t only benefit consumers whose lifestyles have become intricately linked to the online world; it will also help in stimulating economic development across the country.