When people in most cities in Mindanao woke up in the aftermath of Typhoon Odette on Friday, 17 December 2021, they found they had neither mobile nor internet services in their gadgets and computers.
This posed a major problem not only for LGUs and disaster response agencies unable to contact their personnel in the field, but perhaps even more to residents stressed out from their all-night vigil of the super typhoon as it wreaked destruction in its wake.
Telecommunication and internet providers said they were working to restore services in the hard-hit areas, but gave no assurances as to when they can go back online.
Globe Telecom said it had “started restoration efforts in areas where it is safe to do so.” Smart deployed emergency communication gear in Dinagat Islands, Surigao del Sur, Surigao del Norte, Bohol and Southern Leyte, while Dito Telecommunity said its services were also affected in Visayas and Mindanao.
Fiber internet provider Converge ICT Solutions said its network operations in Iloilo, Capiz, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro and Davao were down as of Friday afternoon. Its business centers in Mandaue City, Roxas City, Iloilo City and Cagayan de Oro City were temporarily closed, the company reported.
But many lucky residents of Cagayan de Oro, and some towns in nearby Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon, however, found they could still use their internet linked to the pioneer cable television company in this capital city of Northern Mindanao.
So how did a relatively small player in the telecoms industry keep its services humming when all the major telcos and internet service providers left most of Mindanao and the Visayas in the dark?
How they did it
“Parasat’s cable and internet services are still up in most areas. Good we have at least four providers; with two down, we are still in business,” said Engr. Elpidio M. Paras, founder and CEO of the multiple service operator (MSO) which maintains cable and internet companies in Cagayan de Oro, Misamis Oriental towns from Balingasag in the east coast to Libertad in the west, the Bukidnon town of Manolo Fortich, and the cities of Malaybalay and Valencia.
“Now we know that disaster can still strike us even if the last major event was a decade ago; the important thing is we are prepared and equipped for these challenges,” Paras noted.
When Odette struck Cagayan de Oro on Thursday, 16 December 2021, Parasat had four companies providing internet for a total of five circuits. Thus, even when the two major domestic and one of its foreign suppliers went down due to multiple fiber cuts in their networks brought by Typhoon Odette, Parasat still retained three circuits; one from its remaining domestic supplier and two from its remaining foreign suppliers.
“We were lucky not all of the circuits were down so we had two circuits that became congested and somewhat slowed our service last Friday (Dec 17) because only about 40% of our capacity was left.
We’re oversubscribed, so we’re only using about half of the capacity we contracted for and that’s a major expense,” he explained.
Due in a large part to the redundancy provided by these remaining circuits, Parasat subscribers in Cagayan de Oro, Misamis Oriental municipalities from Tagoloan to Jasaan in the east, and from Opol to Libertad to the west, as well as in Manolo Fortich, Malaybalay and Valencia, where able to communicate with their loved ones and other associates through their Para Fiber internet through the long hours cellphone and internet services of the major telcos were down.
“95 percent of the subscribers in these areas retained internet services during the post-Odette aftermath,” Paras noted.
Kudos from subscribers
“After the storm, it’s like we’re still at it, because we have no water, no cellphone signal, and electricity is off-and-on,” wrote Gina Cuerdo-Amador of Manolo Fortich on her FB timeline. “Good thing our internet (Parasat) is not dependent on those utilities.
“I had to use the Parasat internet of Rey and Linda Trinidad just outside the gate since their ground area was flooded,” said Eduardo Pelaez, president of the Cagayan de Oro Hotel and Restaurant Association (COHARA). “The internet connection allowed me to host a scheduled Zoom meeting yesterday afternoon! Thank you Parasat for being there when all my providers: Smart – Globe – PLDT Home Fibre conked out the whole day.”
“Welcome back, ICT. Pero kudos to Parasat for their resilience in sustaining connectivity when everything was down. What a legend!” quipped Jonathan Arvin Adolfo, former executive director of the Cagayan de Oro ICT Business Council.
“Thank you Parasat,” wrote subscriber Faye Enteria. “Ikaw ra gyud nang pabilin pinakakusgan. Down tanan after the Typhoon Odette aftermath .We appreciate your good ,efficient internet connection.”
Building it better
However, Paras said they are not resting on their laurels but continuing to upgrade their system to make it even better.
“We were lucky in the sense that we did not expect this major event to happen, but we already had redundancy in mind because we were apprehensive that if one of the major telcos went down, we should really have a back-up, that’s why we have the other providers.”
Parasat already has redundancy loops in its fiber network in Cagayan de Oro although the fiber cables to the east and west coasts of Misamis Oriental are still point-to-point.
With its Japanese partner, it has already built a fiber loop that extends to Caraga Region, Surigao, going to Davao(for the eastern part of the loop, and goes back to Cagayan when it reaches Davao via Buda (the Bukidnon-Davao Road).
“This loop is already live. If we have a fiber cut in Surigao, they will still be live provided there are no further cuts along the way. Because the signals will pass through Davao, and onwards to Agusan Sur, and Surigao Sur and Norte, but obviously the infra in Surigao is now really down,” Paras detailed.
Another advantage Parasat has over others internet service providers is that it has teams that can immediately restore as long as the weather is not really bad and the roads are not blocked.
The National Broadband Dream
Over the long term, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) national broadband infrastructure system remains a plan with little budget.
“We have to convince our lawmakers and the incoming administration to fast track that national broadband deployment because it’s going to be a major backbone that the government will control, and that will redound to much cheaper internet and broadband,” Paras noted.
“With more circuits, the more resilient our system can be in coping with calamities like Typhoon Odette. It’s important we have multiple redundancy, thus it’s very important for us that the government has an infrastructure it would subsidize and help bring down the costs of bringing internet and broadband to unserved and underserved areas,” he added.
Paras cited the DICT’s Free WiFi program, although beset with some issues, has better deployments in the regions because it caters to the local players who know the local situation on the ground better, and whom they can monitor.
So far, Parasat already has rolled out Free Wi-Fi to Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon to underserved areas like Cabanglasan, San Fernando, Damulog, and Kadingilan (Bukidnon), and satellite campuses of state universities and colleges through its two contracts with DICT.