PH gov’t to build its first cable landing stations in huge deal with Facebook

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Exasperated at the slow Internet in the Philippines, the government is taking matters into its own hands with the launch of a project called Luzon Bypass Infrastructure (LBI), marking the first time that the government will build and operate its own submarine cable landing stations.

DICT officer-in-charge Eliseo Rio is seen speaking at the podium during the launch. Also in the photo are officials from BCDA, Facebook, and National Security Council
DICT officer-in-charge Eliseo Rio is seen speaking at the podium during the launch. Also in the photo are officials from BCDA, Facebook, and National Security Council

Spearheading the initiative are the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), which signed up social media giant Facebook as the first party which will utilize the infrastructure.

The big-ticket ICT infrastructure project was formally unveiled on Wednesday, Nov. 15, at a launch event held in Taguig City. Top officials from the DICT, BCDA, Facebook, Department of Transportation, Department of Science and Technology, Presidential Communications Operations Office, and National Security Council were also present.

In a joint statement, the DICT and BCDA said the project will build an ultra high-speed Internet backbone throughout the country by the end of 2019. Once done, the government said it can offer Internet speeds of up to 100 Mbps.

Under the setup, the BCDA will build the LBI consisting of two cable landing stations connected by a 250-kilometer long cable network corridor. It will leverage on the geographical advantage of the Philippines by providing a terrestrial bypass route for international submarine cable owners seeking diversity from the Luzon Strait, which has a history of multiple simultaneous submarine cable breaks.

As the first party to utilize the LBI, Facebook will construct and operate a submarine cable system that will land in the cable stations on the east and west coasts of Luzon. The cable will provide direct connections from Luzon to Internet hubs in the United States and Asia.

The DICT, meanwhile, will operate the LBI and maintain the related facilities and provide last mile connectivity in the Philippines.

In exchange for utilizing the bypass infrastructure, Facebook will provide the Philippine government with a bandwidth of at least 2 million Mbps (or 2 Tbps) — which is roughly the same amount of bandwidth provided by telco giants PLDT and Globe Telecom.

The new broadband infrastructure is expected to dramatically improve Internet speed and increase availability throughout the country to support the DICT’s flagship programs to deliver free Wi-Fi in public places nationwide, as well as online government services including for education and health.

The planning and negotiations of the ICT project seems to have been started under the previous Aquino administration as it was former ICT Office chief Louis Casambre who first commented online when news of the landmark initiative started to appear.

Saying he is no longer constrained by an NDA or non-disclosure agreement, which meant that he has prior knowledge of the deal, Casambre said in a Facebook post that the government will now become the third player in the international bandwidth market.

“While not exactly the ‘ideal’ in my humble opinion, and but a smaller piece of our puzzle, it’s a good step forward,” he said. “Moreover, the Luzon Bypass Infrastructure (LBI) will be a critical contribution of the country to the global Internet infrastructure.”

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