The Regional Development Council for Region X is asking the national government to approve a package of recommendations aimed at strengthening the resilience of the country’s fiber optic broadband networks following a series of incidents which resulted in fiber cuts and interrupted services costing the telecoms and allied industries millions of pesos.
During its 126th RDC-X Full Council Meeting on June 24, 2021, the council endorsed the policy recommendations presented by Misamis Oriental Gov. Yevgeny Vincente B. Emano, Chairperson of the RDC-X Infrastructure and Utilities Development Committee which are aimed at “Strengthening the Resiliency of Information and Communications Technology Fiber Optic Networks” to the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and concerned stakeholders for their appropriate action.
In the industry situationer presented by Emano, a wide spectrum of risks to terrestrial and submarine cable networks continue to plague the Philippine’s successful rollout of its national broadband backbone and stalled the development of the country’s telecommunications and communications industries.
Terrestrial cables have been pummeled by rodents and other wildlife, construction activities particularly road projects, natural calamities such as storms, earthquakes, landslides and flood that damage underground and aerial fiber optic networks.
“Since last year, we have had several instances where our fiber optic lines were chewed, cut and affected by rodents (rats) which use the palm oil branches for access. In fact, late last year, we had to replace a 20 kilometer stretch of very expensive fiber optic cable which the rodents chewed on in at least 30 locations in Impasug-ong municipality alone,” Engr. Elpidio M. Paras, president and CEO of Parasat Cable TV, Inc. reported during the 2nd Quarter 2021 meeting of the RDC-X InfraCom on June 17, 2021.
In the latest reported incidents on July 21, two fiber cut incidents were observed on CDO -Gingoog and CDO to Davao main fiber transport lines. One was caused by people cutting overgrown bamboo trees on the CDO- Butuan highway, and the other was caused by rodents chewing thru the 96 core fiber cable near Quezon, Bukidnon.
“If the four other telco players which also have pole mounted cables are affected, around P3-million a month worth of repair and maintenance costs are estimated. In a year’s time, P36-million in damages caused by rodents which gain access via trees and other vegetation under power/telecommunication lines is possible,” Paras stressed.
Similarly, submarine cable networks face constant threats from natural calamities such as earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons and subsea landslides; underground mining and exploration activities; sabotage by transnational terrorists and other criminal entities; delays in the conduct of maintenance and repairs by international service providers; and out-of-service submarine cables which occupy seabed space which might otherwise have been used to lay new cables.
To address these issues confronting the industry, the policy brief recommended the following:
During the short term, for DICT to draft and implement an anti-obstruction policy to keep telecommunication lines and facilities free and clear of obstructions, dangerous structures, and hazardous activities that impeded the continuous transmission of data.
Similarly, the policy brief recommended that DPWH, DICT and ARTA come up with a permanent policy to streamline the permitting process for the deployment of fiber optic cables.
Not the least, for the DPWH to include the accommodation of utilities underground in its design considerations for public roads and bridges; for NTC to institutionalize a policy for National Roaming; and for Congress to immediately enact the Open Access Bill.
Over the long term, the policy brief recommends the IECEP to draft and institutionalize and ICT Code; and for Congress to pass into law a policy for the deregulation of the use of satellite technology and amend RA 7925 (Public Telecommunications Policy Act of the Philippines) to provide a policy framework for emerging technologies.
Furthermore, the policy brief likewise recommends the DICT and NTC to establish a Regulatory Framework, including a system for assigning frequencies for the implementation of High-Altitude Platform Systems (HAPS); for DICT to come up with policies that will spur the deployment of submarine cable networks, thereby increasing redundancy and resiliency; and for DICT to draft a policy protecting undersea cables.
A snapshot of the current state of broadband access in the Philippines shows that it currently has ten international submarine cable landing stations which are all operational, with domestic access facilitated by the DICT Common Tower Initiative, establishment of a National Fiber Backbone Infrastructure, and use of the NGCP fiber optic cable as the main backbone to boost interconnectivity through the Luzon to Mindanao Bypass Infrastructure.
The Digital 2021: The Philippines Report show the country has a 67 percent penetration rate with 73.91 million internet users recorded as of January 2021; 152.4 million mobile connections; USD$ 340-million total consumer spend on mobile apps for the year 2020, and an Average Daily Time of 10 hours and 56 minutes per capita spent using the internet on small devices.
At present, the Philippines ranks 86th among 140 surveyed countries in terms of internet speed, with an average mobile internet download speed of 25.77 mbps, average fixed broadband speed of 32.73 mbps, and 75 percent CMTS coverage in Region X equivalent to 1,524 out of 2,022 barangays.