MANILA -- The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) has expressed commitment to improve the speed, access and affordability of internet as it welcomes the possible entry of a third major player in the local telecommunications industry.

A major achievement for the department this year is its agreement with the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) and Facebook to build a broadband infrastructure that would help improve internet speed and accessibility in the country.

The Luzon Bypass Infrastructure will provide a bypass route for international submarine cable systems from the Luzon Strait, which is prone to multiple simultaneous submarine cable breaks.

A submarine cable system that will land in the cable stations and provide direct connections from Luzon to internet hubs in the United States and Asia will be constructed and operated.

Facebook, which will utilize the broadband infrastructure, will provide frequency spectrums equivalent to at least 2 million megabytes per second (Mbps), expanding the capacity available for the government’s information and communications technology (ICT) projects, such as the National Broadband Plan, National Government Portal and the Free Public WiFi program.

“These 2 terabits per second is almost equal to the current combined capacity of Smart and Globe. We will now have the capability to become the third telco player in the country,” DICT officer in charge, Undersecretary Eliseo Rio, Jr., said in his address during the signing of the High-Speed Internet Infrastructure Landing Party Agreement last November.

DICT will operate the bypass infrastructure, maintain the related facilities, and provide last-mile connectivity in the country.

The department will also provide opportunities for minor telco providers to operate the broadband infrastructure on behalf of the government.

For its part, BCDA will build two cable landing stations in Baler, Aurora and Poro Point in San Fernando, La Union connected by a 250-km. cable network corridor.

The construction of the cable landing stations and other facilities is estimated to cost the BCDA more than PHP900 million, poised to be funded through the 2018 national budget.

The Luzon Bypass Infrastructure will operate for 25 years from 2019 to 2044 and may be renewed 25 years thereafter.

Free Public WiFi in EDSA

Last June, DICT has launched the free Public WiFi project that aims to provide free internet access to commuters along Epifanio delos Santos Ave. (EDSA).

The initiative seeks to fulfill President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive to provide free internet in public places nationwide.

Its initial phase covers all 13 Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) stations from North Ave. to Taft Ave. and the stretch of EDSA from Guadalupe to Cubao on the street level.

The department envisions the free WiFi to eventually cover the entire stretch of EDSA outside the reach of MRT from Mall of Asia to Balintawak.

PLDT and Globe, the two major telco players in the Philippines, have provided their facilities at no cost to the government to ensure the availability of the free public WiFi service. Both mobile service providers have coordinated with the local governments of Quezon City, Mandaluyong, Makati, Manila, Pasay City, the MRT administration and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) to complete the installation of the public WiFi service.

With this initiative, commuters will be able to choose the connection that will best serve their needs.

Meanwhile, through its “PipolKonek” project”, the DICT seeks to roll out free public Wi-Fi hotspots in public plazas and parks, libraries, schools, colleges and universities, rural health units and government hospitals, train stations, airports, and seaports, and national and local government offices.

There are currently 907 sites where people from Metro Manila and 47 other provinces can connect and use up to 50 megabytes of data daily.

The department aims to reach more than 13,000 public places across 145 cities and 1,489 municipalities.

Entry of third telco player in PH

To further improve the state of internet in the Philippines, Duterte has invited China to facilitate the entry of a third major telco player to provide competition to both Globe and Smart in providing internet services.

The Chinese government has selected China Telecom to venture into the local telco industry.

Duterte has ordered the DICT and the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to ensure the entry of the Chinese telco firm by the first quarter of next year.

Both government agencies were directed to approve all applications and licenses within seven days upon submission of requirements and consider them as approved if these were not acted upon within seven days.

The President has likewise warned the judiciary not to interfere in the process of setting up the third telco player.

"That's how serious the President is on the entry of a third telecoms player. It is being rushed because we need desperately to have better telecoms in this country," said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.

The DICT urged telecommunications companies interested to become the third major player in the industry to invest in the installation of fixed lines to further improve internet service in the country.

The Philippines needs at least 67,000 cell sites to provide additional radio frequencies that are vital in the transmission of data, enable phone calls, send and receive text messages, and browse the internet on mobile phones.

“The main reason why we have one of the slowest and expensive internet access in the region is that most of us, if not all, connect to the internet via Globe and Smart mobile networks. But they have only 20,000 cell sites, such that around more than 5,000 subscribers share a tower when the more ideal ratio should be one tower per 1,000 subscribers. We need at least 67,000 cell sites to just compare with Vietnam,” Rio said.

The DICT official explained that having more access to fixed lines would decongest the mobile networks of both telco players improving their services.

Any prospective third telco player could also become a common tower provider of telcos that may be leased by Globe and Smart to increase their services to their subscribers in more areas nationwide.

The DICT and the NTC are preparing the guidelines for the assignment of frequencies to a third telco player.

Both agencies will ensure that the frequencies will be allocated to an organization “with the financial and technical clout to really be able to compete and not merely be gobbled up by the duopoly”.

“In fact, we will put that as a condition for granting frequencies, that they will be returned to the government, if and when the organization is bought or merges with Globe or PLDT/Smart,” said Rio.

The Palace said that China Telecom needs to partner with a local telco firm to comply with the Philippine Constitution that sets a 40-percent cap on foreign ownership on certain sectors, including telecommunications. (PNA)