Should things go as planned, the Philippines would soon have cheaper and faster internet services that would be at par with the best other Southeast Asian nations have to offer.
The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) is partnering with local government units (LGUs) and the private sector to make this happen by expediting the completion of the National Broadband Network.
“The National Grid (NGCP) is not a resilient line. It is not a ring, which is the most topologically resilient network. ,” said Emmanuel Rey R. Caintic, DICT Undersecretary for Digital Philippines & Operations, in a zoom conference with the Cagayan de Oro Chamber of Commerce and Industry Foundation, Inc. (Oro Chamber) on March 15.
“A ring when it is cut off will simply flow to the other side of the circle. That’s why DICT is shifting its strategy into rings,” he added.
The Oro Chamber requested the meeting with DICT to seek ways to harmonize the National Broadband Plan (NBP) with the Master Plan for Sustainable Urban Infrastructure Development in Metropolitan Cagayan de Oro (SUID Metro CDO) being implemented by the National Economic Development Authority through its Region X office.
Metropolitan Cagayan de Oro
As presented by Engr. Mezlaine Jay S. Pacana, NEDA -X Focal Person, SUID Metro Cagayan de Oro Project, Metro CDO covers the 2 cities of Cagayan de Oro and El Salvador, and the municipalities of Alubijid, Claveria, Gitagum, Initao, Jasaan, Laguindingan, Libertad, Opol, Tagoloan, Villanueva, Manolo Fortich, and six more candidate LGUs under consideration (Balingasag, Baungon, Libona, Malitbog, Sumilao, Talakag).
Metro CDO had a population of 1,219,005 as of 2015 and covers a total land area of 227,935.49 hectares.
The National Broadband
“DICT requested P18-Billion to build a fiber backbone covering the whole archipelago, but the NGCP line does not offer redundancy as it is built,” Caintic said.
“Initially, National Broadband was planned to be routed through NGCP lines. But this is not reflective of the national backbone, this is just one of its lines. This will take some time to reach Cagayan de Oro,” he noted.
Without waiting for further developments for the NBP, DICT has proceeded with what was possible within its allocated budget.
Under the strategy adopted by the agency, the DICT is seeking active partnerships with LGUs and the private sector through telecommunications companies, internet service providers and value added services (VAS) providers to help expedite the construction of the national fiber optic backbone.
To build a resilient fiber backbone, DICT plans to purchase a fiber backbone ring, which it is encouraging the cities to do, and lease existing or planned fiber networks of telcos.
“Instead of relying solely on building the backbone through NGCP’s line, DICT will lease all excess capacities of players and run the national backbone through them,” Caintic explained. “Local players could then build their provincial broadband networks emanating from this national fiber backbone. Building the National Broadband would take very long without the help of the provincial telcos.”
“What we urgently need now is a national broadband highway,” Caintic noted. “By partnering with LGUs, DICT aims to expand the Middle and Last Mile.”
LGUs which have so far signed MOUs with DICT to help build the national fiber and provincial networks include Bataan, Baguio City, Tarlac, Zambales, Pangasinan, Cavite, Rizal and Batangas.
“The Free WiFi for All Program will be DICT’s means through which it can assist provincial telcos build their provincial/city broadbands,” Caintic said. “DICT will pay for the internet at endpoints which becomes the telcos revenue driver. As the anchor tenant/client, DICT would help finance the broadband and/or help extend the broadband to reach further, especially underserved/unserved areas.”
“Leasing the telcos broadband networks instead of purchasing it would help telcos better sustain and expand the networks over the long run. The Last Mile revenues would be exclusively for the local telcos.”
Multiple internet sourcing would further bring down the cost of the internet and expand the market to those not currently using it or have no access to it.
Harmonizing SUID Metro CDO
The meeting with DICT was requested by the Oro Chamber Permanent Standing Committee for Public Utilities and Infrastructure, particularly to see how the national broadband dovetails with the SUID Metro CDO Master Plan Connectivity System – Transportation and Information and Communications Technology component.
In particular, ICT component of the Connectivity System seeks to establish the fundamental ICT components for smart city initiatives, building on the policy environment and digital infrastructure, achieving widespread use of ICT in government operations, and expanding ICT.
With a projected ICT demand of 2.6 million mbps (million bytes per second) by 2025, among the identified strategies for ICT in the SUID Metro CDO Master Plan are partnerships with stakeholders to reduce construction costs and spur investment in fiber-optic corridors; and the synchronization of data cabling with public road works projects between DWPH, DICT, and LGUs, already salient features of the DICT’s present national backbone rollout strategy.
Also listed among the ICT Programs/Projects/Activities identified in the SUID Metro CDO Master Plan are the Free WiFi for All Project and Digital Transformation Centers, likewise included in the updated DICT strategy.
Engr. Elpidio Paras, president of Promote Normin and CEO of Parasat HD, a Cagayan de Oro-based ISP and VAS provider, lauded the DICT plan which dovetails nicely with the resilient ring networks telcos and VAS providers have been laying throughout Mindanao.
“Our ring broadband network in Metro Cagayan de Oro is almost complete and is now entering Manolo Fortich, and have also been already laid out in Balingasag, Gingoog, and up to Initao. This provincial network may be completed within the year, and ready to service the needs of DICT,” he reported.
To further set the long-term direction of the national broadband network in Metro CDO, Paras suggested NEDA-X to commission a study soonest on how to implement the ICT Infrastructure for the SUID Metro CDO Master Plan as described by Usec. Caintic.
“NEDA will be entering another planning cycle by 2022 and we can recommend this as one of the studies to be undertaken through the Project Development & Other Related Studies (PRDS) to update the Regional Development Plan for inclusion in the General Appropriations Act of 2022,” Engr. Pacana responded.
Karma Yasmin B. Ortiz, Sector Coordinator for ICT of the Secretariat, RDC-X Infrastructure & Development Committee, added that the policy brief to strengthen the resiliency of fiber optic networks (FONs) is now being reviewed for dissemination to key stakeholders for review and further inputs.
“The Oro Chamber is willing to host a focus group/technical working group discussion not only on these issues, but basically to determine ways forward on how the deployment of the national, provincial and city broadband networks can be expedited in partnership with the LGUs and private sector, to realize the establishment of a robust, fast and resilient national broadband network in Metro CDO and its adjacent areas,” volunteered Oro Chamber President Ruben A. Vegafria.
Besides DICT, the Oro Chamber, and NEDA-X, the meeting was also attended by other Metro CDO ICT stakeholders including Promote Normin, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce Region X and Mindanao offices, NTC-10, the Oro Trade & Investment Promotion Center (TIPC), and Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan.