BSP backs easing data connectivity restrictions for financial inclusion

THE CENTRAL BANK is backing legislative measures that seek to narrow the digital divide in the country to push financial inclusion in rural areas, said Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin E. Diokno.

“We have a relatively high mobile phone and internet access penetration, but these digital assets are underutilized for financial transactions. In fact, seven  in 10 unbanked adults have a mobile phone. This is an untapped opportunity for digital finance,” Mr. Diokno said in a response to questions from the Makati Business Club. 

Mr. Diokno said in particular, they support Senate Bill No. 45 or the Open Access in Data Transmission Act, which will remove the need to secure congressional franchises for the broadband industry and streamline the registration process. 

The proposed legislation, as well as its counterpart House Bill No. 54, have both been pending since 2019.

Mr. Diokno said they are also backing amendments to Executive No. 467 signed by former President Fidel V. Ramos as it is “restrictive” for only allowing enfranchised entities authorized by the National Telecommunications Commission to have access to international satellite systems.

“The BSP will also study other possible roles to promote internet connectivity in the countryside, particularly through satellite operations,” Mr. Diokno said. 

A recent central bank study found three in five adults in urban areas own a smartphone. The numbers fall to two in five in the rural areas, reflecting the digital divide between cities and provinces.

Moreover, four in five adults from class ABC own smartphones, much higher than the two in five adults in Class E.

Better than Cash Alliance Managing Director Ruth Goodwin-Groen said public-private partnerships will help push financial inclusion.

“They are a good starting point to address concerns around data security, transaction failure rates, fraud, lack of grievance redress, or other challenges faced by users and give users a seamless payment experience,” Ms. Goodwin-Groen said.

By 2023, the BSP wants 70% of adult Filipinos to own a bank account or to be financially included. Its Financial Inclusion Survey showed 29% of adult Filipinos belonged to the banked population as of 2019, leaving 51.2 million still unbanked. — L.W.T. Noble

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