Sunday August 19, 2018

Ledesma: The National Broadband Network (Last of 2)

EARLY in his term President Rodrigo R. Duterte was even advised with a smack of ridicule by no less than PLDT big-shot Manny Pangilinan to leave the telecommunications industry to the players, meaning PLDT/Smart and Globe Telecom, for reasons that telecom is only for the experts. Between the two they control the 700 mhz frequency which the government awarded for free to seven applicants which were later acquired for a song by SMC and sold to Smart and Globe for P69-billion.

It was smart deal meant to consolidate the monopoly. When Duterte got wind of the virtual control of the vital frequency by the duopoly, he demanded the return of the frequency. What PLDT/SMART surrendered was the frequency of Cure Telecom for which Pangilinan demanded a price of P2-billion. When Duterte threatened to deploy BIR examiners, PLDT relented and gave up the frequency for free.

The public was made to believe the anti-trust body succeeded in compelling the duopoly to return part of the 700 mhz frequency. Well, in fact they did, but they saw to it that these are too scrimp and too narrow for the other players to use.

The appointment of Undersecretary Eliseo Rio Jr. as Acting Secretary of the Department of Information and Communications gave him the impetus to pursue the NBN project. Through tedious processes and negotiations with the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines and the National Transmission Corporation they finally signed a Tripartite Agreement that would allow DICT to make use of the idle dark fiber assets of Transco, which NGCP maintains.

While the project comprehends of the bandwidth derived from Facebook 2-terabit connections from either Hong Kong or Guam, Secretary Rio is looking at other options to roll out internet broadband fix-line and wifi connectivity ahead of FB. The FB submarine cable which will be landed in two points in Poro Point in San Fernando, and in Bawang, La Union in the west and cut across the province to Baler, Quezon in the east. This submarine cable is expected to be finished early 2019 still.

However, expect DICT with the help of Finance Sec. Sonny Dominguez to come up with advance solutions. This man Rio has a lot of options up his sleeves. The partnership of DICT and Transco of the Department of Finance provide a synergy that would now fast-track the NBN program of the Duterte administration. What differentiate this from the mothballed ZTE-NBN project is that it will have a wider coverage and will provide high-speed internet services and free WIFI to government offices, local government units to include barangay offices and public schools. And this one is corruption-free!

Rio proves to be the perfect man for DICT. Am personally impressed by strategy that he had taken so far which translates to saving billions of pesos for the government. Of course we will be remiss if we do not recognize the efforts and man hour spent by Transco President Melvin Matibag in arriving at this hallmark tripartite agreement with NGCP. It will not be a surprise if DICT and Transco will conceptualise yet another strategy which would consolidate the assets and expertise of the two government agencies in providing what the telecom duopoly for years failed to offer to the public.