Recto: To secure funding, broadband project must be in 2018 budget

Sen. Ralph Recto is urging the proponent of the national broadband project, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), to include the cost of the program in its 2018 budget request.

Sen. Ralph Recto

Sen. Ralph Recto

No matter what schemes will be used to finance the project’s estimated P77.9 billion price tag, “appropriations will be required and those can only be authorized by Congress,” Recto said.

“Additional feasibility studies, preliminary and other preparatory work, early-stage implementation can be included in the 2018 budget,” Recto said.

Work on the 2018 national budget has begun among agencies, with all requests bundled together in one proposed spending bill that Pres. Rodrigo Duterte will send to Congress by July.

The broadband project should be “one of the major headlines of the President’s annual Budget Message to Congress,” Recto said, referring to what is traditionally the chief executive’s cover letter to the national budget he is proposing.

Should the broadband backbone require multi-year obligations, the first installment can be made in the 2018 general appropriations, Recto said.

“Kahit PPP (Public Private Partnership) ‘yan, may government equity or conditional guarantees ‘yan na kailangan dumaan sa pagsusuri ng Kongreso,” Recto said.

Recto said financing provisions for “contingent risks assumed by the government as spelled out in PPP contracts” are included in the national budget, specifically in the Unprogrammed Fund.

“Lahat ng tanong ukol sa security features ng proyekto, pwede ma-raise sa House at sa Senate budget hearings,” he said.

“If a Chinese equipment supplier will participate in the project, and if the broadband will use facilities run by the National Grid Corp., which is partially owned by another Chinese company, there will be, for sure, queries about how this project will have security firewalls.”

Recto said the project should be “FOI -compliant” and “it seems that this is the direction DICT is treading based on the assurance by Secretary Salalima that the blueprint will be uploaded online for comments by the public.”

That should be the correct tack, Recto said, “because if the project will be 100-percent taxpayer-funded then it has 105 million stockholders who must be informed every step of the way.”

Recto also welcomed DICT’s “tunnel-end vision” of providing at least 10 Mbps connection to all households at a much lower cost than today’s average of P1,299 per month. “It is good that they have a performance guarantee in advance,” he said.

The senator also proposed that regulatory hindrances be removed ahead of the project start so that the 2020 completion target will be met. “Already delayed by a decade, we cannot have another abort moment now that we have just pressed the reboot button,” he said, referring to the scuttled government proposal to partner with Chinese firm ZTE in 2007.

“Permitting problems encountered by telcos in putting up cellsites should also be included in one declogging sweep of administrative bottlenecks,” Recto added.

He urged the DICT to stage a “roadshow” that will explain the project’s benefits, especially to the underserved areas it will reach. “This backbone must have many spurs that will fan out to unserved places.”

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