MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government’s massive internet deal with social media giant Facebook is pushing through after being entangled in geopolitical tensions between the United States and China.
Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) undersecretary Eliseo Rio Jr. said over the weekend the international submarine cable project led by technology giants Google and Facebook will connect to the Philippines by August or September 2020.
It was supposed to go online in 2019.
The Philippine branch of the 12,800-kilometer undersea cable system—known as the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN)—is expected to significantly lower the cost of internet services in the country.
The project is also part of the national broadband plan, which seeks to power government offices “down to the barangay level” apart from small internet companies in far-flung towns.
Hundreds of submarine cables like PLCN line the seabed around the globe. They are the unseen backbone of the world’s internet traffic, carrying everything from emails to videos posted on social media.
The PLCN project was launched in 2017 with the goal of connecting Los Angeles in the US, Taiwan, the Philippines and Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China.
It immediately faced problems, mainly from the powerful US government committee known as Team Telecom, which raised national security issues on the cable’s link to China at time when the Trump administration was ramping up rhetoric against Beijing.
PLCN’s owners eventually decided earlier this year to push for the activation of the rest of the cable system except the segment to Hong Kong.
“The Trump government did not authorize the direct connection from LA to HK,” Rio told the Inquirer. “But Facebook was able to get authorisation to connect the Philippines to LA.”
PLCN’s Philippine branch is part of Facebook’s expansion in the Philippines, where it remains the dominant social media platform.
It earlier agreed to provide the Philippines with an annual internet capacity of two terabits per second (Tbps) free of charge in exchange for using the government’s P975 million Luzon Bypass Infrastructure.
The Luzon Bypass project includes two government-controlled landing stations—the landfall points of submarine cables—in Aurora and La Union. Rio said the cable will be connected to Baler, Aurora by the third quarter of 2020.
Rio said other cable companies are being invited to use the government’s landing stations and cable facilities.
“We have interested parties from Taiwan, Japan and China Telecom,” Rio said. China Telecom is the foreign partner of the country’s third major telco, DITO Telecommunity.
Rio added that the DICT plans to tap unused fiber cables of the National Transmission Corp. and National Grid Corp. From here, internet service providers and cable television operators can invest in infrastructure to their customers in exchange for bandwidth coming from Facebook.
Rio explained that the government will only need less than half of Facebook’s free 2 Tbps.
“The balance can be available for such off-setting agreement,” he said, citing interested broadband companies such as Converge ICT Solutions and Philippine Telegraph and Telephone Corp.
The use of government facilities would support other broadband players who would otherwise have acquired bandwidth from PLDT Inc. and Globe Telecom. Both companies control most of the landing stations in the Philippines.
While the terms were not disclosed, Rio implied the government will offer bandwidth to smaller internet providers at lower prices, making these competitive to the rates offered by the incumbents.
“These small players will be monetizing the bandwidth that they earned from the government because their subscription cost will be much lower than the big telcos,” Rio said.