By Victor V. Saulon, Sub-Editor
THE Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) is looking at a budget of up to P30 billion for the government’s national broadband program, which is targeted for completion within the term of the current administration.
“We are estimating about P20 billion to P30 billion, and that one will start by phase,” Acting DICT Secretary Eliseo M. Rio, Jr. told reporters on Friday on the sidelines of the BusinessWorld Economic Forum 2018 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel at Bonifacio Global City.
Mr. Rio said stakeholders in the program — DICT, state-led National Transmission Corp. (TransCo) and privately owned National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) — are to sign an agreement next month to start the project.
“We’re going to sign a tripartite agreement maybe early June this year because the two — NGCP and TransCo — will bring the MoA (memorandum of agreement) to their board for their approval,” he said.
Mr. Rio said the budget for the project would be presented to Congress for approval as part of the government’s budget appropriation for 2019.
The signing of the agreement is the latest development of the national broadband program that has been stalled last year because of the disagreement between NGCP and TransCo.
Sy-led NGCP had said its fiber optic cables, which cover 6,154 kilometers or 160,779 fiber kilometers, would be the primary network of the program that aims to bring wi-fi connection all over the country.
Earlier this year, TransCo had expressed fears that NGCP could “dangerously exert its economic and political dominance in the country” if allowed to enter into a bilateral agreement to implement the country’s broadband plan.
But in April, TransCo said NGCP had agreed to include the state owner of the country’s power transmission network in the plan.
Mr. Rio said the investment of the government would be spent on putting up the equipment to connect the power transmission backbone to the “middle-mile” providers.
He said these are mostly Internet service providers in the provinces with existing customers not served by the two biggest telecommunications companies — Smart Communications, Inc. and Globe Telecom, Inc.
He said the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is to come up with a feasibility study that would set the development phases of the broadband plan. But he said his office expects a budget of at least P20 billion or as high as P30 billion.
The national broadband program aims to offer free and fast Internet service to rural areas, which remain unserved by private companies, Mr. Rio said.