Monday August 20, 2018

Ledesma: The National Broadband Network (1st of 2)

THE first time we heard of the National Broadband Network was during the time of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Prior to PGMA era there were actually attempts at establishing a national communications backbone but these never took off from the planning stage. It was only during PGMA’s term that NBN was seriously attended to. Then Department of Transport and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza submitted the plan to then House Speaker Jose de Venecia. As we all know, the study was finalized by National Economic and Development Authority then headed by Romulo Neri. Neri in turn drafted the plan with the assistance of Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada, then head of Philippine Forest Corporation.

The multi-million-dollar NBN project was hobbled by controversies. The son of House Speaker, Joey De Venecia, offered to undertake the project but his company, Broadband Philippines, capitalized only for P300,000.00, was far from being qualified. Then ZTE Corporation, a Chinese telecom giant offered to undertake the project, a deal which was hatched over a game of golf. Former Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos was reported to have brokered the deal. The negotiation took a bad turn when the characters involved in the NBN project failed to agree on how to share the “commission”.

The deal later became a national scandal, even dragging the name of First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, following confession of Jun Lozada who alleged that kickbacks were given to those involved in the NBN deal. Lozada who became an instant celebrity and was dubbed “whistle blower”, claimed there was attempt to kidnap and silence him and sought refuge in a nunnery. Of course this was a fake story.

At the height of the controversy, President Arroyo cancelled the project. Abalos was charged in the Sandiganbayan but was later acquitted. On the other hand whistle blower Lozada, who as chairman of Philippine Forest, was found guilty of graft in a separate case involving award of public land for Jatropha development project to his brother. From then on, NBN was forgotten giving rise to a duopoly that was nurtured by the Aquino government that was a veritable puppet of the oligarchy.

As I write this piece 45 percent of the entire country is either not served or underserved and if that is not miserable enough the rest of the 55 percent suffers from the most expensive and yet the most sluggish internet speed in an era where the world speaks of internet of things and 5G technology. Shame. (To be continued Friday, June 15)