WATCH | PH agencies ink deal with Facebook for government internet project

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MANILA, PHILIPPINES- A game changer that will vastly improve the country’s internet services — this was how the government bared its partnership with Facebook, as the two sides signed the pertinent documents on Wednesday.

Under the deal, Facebook will put up a submarine cable system landing in the east and west coasts of Luzon. The Bases Conversion and Development Authority will in turn build the two landing stations in Poro Point, La Union and Baler, Aurora, connected by a 250-kilometer cable corridor — projects collectively known as the Luzon bypass infrastructure which cost P975 million.

The Department of Information Communication and Technology (DICT) will afterwards operate and maintain the landing stations and put up the backhaul infrastructure connecting to end users.

The connection is slated to go online in 2019 and is seen to rival the combined bandwidth of dominant players PLDT and Globe, though the officials clarified that their project is meant to provide the infrastructure for the government’s internet project.

The Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), in a press release Wednesday, said the goal is “to undertake a reliable and efficient government internet (SECURE GovNet) project.”

Project “secure govnet,” according to PCOO, “aims to build the “Luzon bypass infrastructure, an ultra high-speed information highway that will greatly improve the speed, affordability, and accessibility of broadband internet across the archipelago.”

DICT OIC-Secretary Eliseo Rio said under the agreements signed, Facebook “will provide the Philippine government with spectrum equivalent to at least 2 million megabits per second, significantly expanding the capacity available for the government’s connectivity programs. Such 2 terabytes per second is almost equal to the current combined capacity of Globe and Smart-PLDT, so puwede na kami maging [we can be a] third player.”

While the government fancies itself as now transforming into a third player in the telecom space, it will not exactly go head to head against incumbent players PLDT and Globe. For one, the project ties into the national broadband plan of the DICT, which primarily caters to unserved and underserved areas in the country. Though in addition to providing free access, the DICT said they are also looking how to lease certain network systems to small-scale internet service providers.

Rio said these “2 terrabytes we can get will truly improve the speed of our internet connection in free public wi-fi areras.” And, he added, “because more or less its cost is just what is called raw cost, it will make our internet very much cheaper.”

Facebook said the partnership with the government forms part of their efforts to further populate the internet.

Nico Roehrich, Facebook APAC sourcing manager, said “we are always evaluating new technologies and systems to help us accomplish our mission. One of the things that we’ve been bidding out recently is our global network infrastructure. We look to increase capacity, increase diversity and apply and adopt the latest in systems technology and this is one of those projects that fits perfectly into what we are trying to accomplish.”

Facebook did not accommodate media questions, but the social media giant has been in the thick of rolling out internet infrastructure in frontier areas. These efforts include launching solar-powered drones that beam down internet access, and teaming up with tech companies like microsoft in laying down a massive subsea cable system in the Atlantic.

Although Facebook sees their efforts as a missionary initiative to bridge the global digital divide, some critics cite potential violations in net neutrality – where the social media giant creates a walled garden of content that excludes other providers.

Still, in a country like the Philippines where internet services have often been the butt of criticisms, the initiative expectedly drew some positive reactions.

“We are glad that DICT has finally signed the landing party agreement and hope the project becomes operational at the soonest,” said Winthrop Yu of the Internet Society of the Philippines.