By Myrna M. Velasco
The Philippine government will spend up to P30 billion over four years to concretize plans of utilizing the dark fiber optic cables (FOC) of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) in the State-sponsored broadband program that in part will be offering free internet services to the public.
In an interview with reporters, Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Officer-in-Charge Eliseo M. Rio Jr. has affirmed that the signing of a tripartite memorandum of agreement (MOA) between his agency, the NGCP and National Transmission Corporation (TransCo) is indeed targeted June this year – and the government is eyeing to move headway with the national broadband program by next year and will be culminating in 2022.
The country’s broadband program, he said, will have several components: One is connecting with an international gateway facility (IGF) which is a partnership already sealed by the Philippine government with social media giant Facebook; and the other is setting up the backbone through the use of dark fiber of NGCP and TransCo.
For the Facebook-anchored gateway that will have its landing point in Aurora province to Poro Point in La Union from submarine cables originating from the United States, Rio emphasized that the initial budget for this had been set at P1.0 billion. “Right now, all our IGFs are owned by Globe and Smart. Soon, in 2019, we will have government IGF,” he stressed.
Additionally, Rio qualified that “we are estimating about P20 billion to P30 billion (for the backbone using power’s fiber optic cables) – and that one will be done on phases. The budget for that, we will have to recommend to Congress in the 2019 GAA (General Appropriations Act).”
The DICT official added capital outlay maybe equally divided over four years – entailing then that spending for the broadband program could be to the tune of P5 billion to P7.5 billion annually from 2019 to year 2022.
For this year, he qualified that the initial step had been the completion of a feasibility study that shall set the parameters of the national broadband program. The government has tapped the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for that purpose.
On the NGCP-supported dark fiber backbone, Rio noted that this “will be available for government use especially for its free Wi-Fi and national broadband plan.”
He added the overarching goal will be to lessen if not totally eradicate “digital divide” not just across segments of end-users; but also between the metropolitan areas and the provinces.
“We will do this for the small players. We have a lot of small players which must be given chance to have connectivity in a backbone connected to the Internet at a low cost – this is what we are going to give them,” Rio stressed. At the same time, it will be a lot faster Internet service that the Filipinos could enjoy.
He conveyed that small players service about 70 percent of the rural areas on their internet connectivity, and “40 percent of the country is what we call un-served and under-served by our telcos (telecommunications companies).”
Rio said “there are thousands of small players like cable TV (television) operators, small rural telecom companies; even rural electric cooperatives can become the conduit for information connectivity.”
From these telco players, he illustrated that they can now connect to the backbone, “we call that middle mile – that is from the backbone to the point of presence in the provinces. And from the point of presence, we now have the last mile to the subscribers.”