DICT internet roadmap
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - October 24, 2017 - 4:00pm

A few weeks after the lawyer secretary of DICT was replaced by a telecommunications technocrat, things started moving on our age old problem of slow internet. Last Monday, I shared the diagnosis of the problem made by DICT OIC Sec. Eliseo Rio Jr.

Gen. Rio’s diagnosis seems simple only because he wanted to start somewhere and not lose the general population in the technical jargon.  Of course there are details that ought to be addressed if DICT is to deliver any relief to the public.

The General started with the simple fact that we do not have enough cell sites.

There are two main reasons why we have such a small number of cell site towers (Vietnam has 70,000 towers compared to our 20,000): the bureaucracy is terrible… we need 25 government permits to construct one cell tower. And the two telcos failed to invest in more cell sites because the 20,000 existing sites are more than enough to support the lucrative text business.

So the General prepared an executive order that requires all government agencies including LGUs to approve permits to construct cell sites within seven days or the application is deemed approved. If disapproved, a justification must be sent to the Office of the President.

Gen. Rio also mentioned the plan of government to build common cell sites specially in underserved areas that will be leased to the private telcos. Having more cell sites will relieve pressure now being felt by increasing demand for broadband as the use of smartphones expands.

But I wondered what can a dramatic increase in cell sites do if the access to the rest of world via submarine cables and other means are controlled by the two telcos? We can easily assume that most of the demand from Google to Netflix requires international access.

I asked that question to Gen. Rio on Facebook Messenger and this was his reply:

“Hi Boo, the 2,000,000 Mbps capacity that DICT plans to have through its own gateway by 2019, is almost twice the 1,100,000 Mbps PLDT’s capacity in 2015. Globe is estimated to have a capacity of around 1,400,000 Mbps last year.”

“With 2 Tbps, we almost have the combined capacity of Globe and PLDT. As of now, I am not yet at liberty to divulge the details of this program as negotiations are still ongoing, but will be most likely resolved by the end of this month. The President will announce this in the proper time.”

The OIC secretary also revealed in a Facebook post what else he plans to do.

“As the OIC of DICT, we came up with this road map in implementing the President’s desire to bring down the cost and increase the speed of internet access nationwide. It is to empower the numerous small players specially the ISPs (VSAT providers, rural telephone companies, CATV operators, even some rural electric cooperatives) in the country, which, in partnership with the government, can provide fixed connection to the internet.” 

“When people are at the office, or at home or anywhere they remain stationary for hours, why would they access the internet through mobile connection? Since in our daily activities we spent around 80 percent of the time in stationary places, and only 20 percent of the time moving from one place to another, there is a big market that needs fast fixed connection to the internet.”

“In providing free WiFi in public places nationwide, DICT is going to subscribe to ISPs, which should increase in numbers because of this demand. DICT also got wholesale bandwidth (initially around 200 GBps) from the telcos at prices that BPOs enjoy.”

“DICT would then transport (through a leased backbone and middle mile network) this BW from its core to the different participating ISPs that won in a bidding process, who would then provide the last mile to the numerous access points in public places, schools, military and police posts, municipal halls and provincial capitol, etc.”

“Content of the Public Free Wifi would include getting basic government services on-line, like applying for NBI clearance, renewal of passports and drivers license, etc. ISPs can ride on the free WiFi network to bring high speed, low cost internet access to their subscribers other than the government.”

“Eventually, around the later part of 2019, DICT will have its own international gateway with a capacity of 2,000,000 Mbps. By then also, the National Broadband Plan would have in place the Domestic Wideband Information Network (DWIN) which includes the government backbone and middle mile network.”

 “The ISPs that would have grown in number by that time would have an inexpensive source of bandwidth that will be transported to them by DWIN, for the win! This partnership of government and small players will constitute the third player.”

 “The infra described here is a fixed connectivity network to provide fast and inexpensive access to the internet, which will eventually be owned by the government by 2020 and will be known as DWIN.”

“We will leave the mobile access to the internet to telcos that already have rolled these out.” 

“So if one is stationary, one should have fast inexpensive access to the internet thru a fixed network owned by the government and operated by private partners. If one is mobile, then he/she access the internet via the mobile network owned by the duopoly. Smartphones can automatically and seamlessly connect from fixed to mobile internet access and vice-versa.”

The road map sounds promising but still, we can be forgiven if we retain some amount of skepticism because things do not always go as planned in government roll outs. Indeed, some private sector observers, notably from the academe, have comments on the DICT plans.

Globe and PLDT just won its suit at the Court of Appeals stopping the Philippine Competition Commission from reviewing potential anti-competitive practice in the purchase of the underused San Miguel frequencies. Unless reversed by the Supreme Court, this will have important repercussions on the industry’s future competitive situation.

Since this is all the space I have today, we will cover the rest of the story in a future column. Suffice it to say for now that replacing the lawyer on top of DICT with someone who totally understands the technical side has finally produced movement in the newly created agency.

If the President appoints Gen. Rio instead of another lawyer as permanent head of DICT, we will at least see an honest effort on the part of government to help us find relief. 

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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