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US-China submarine cable row worries DICT

/ 05:16 AM August 30, 2019

The government’s plan to provide fast and inexpensive internet to millions of Filipinos is under threat after a report saying the United States may block a massive US-China submarine cable that will have branches in the Philippines emerged.

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) is now looking into the issue, which comes amid escalating trade tensions between the United States and China.

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This may turn the P975-million Luzon Bypass Infrastructure, a project that includes government-controlled cable landing stations in Aurora and La Union that will host the undersea cable, into a white elephant.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the US Justice Department was opposing the 12,800-kilometer Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN), citing national security concerns over one of its stakeholders, Beijing-based Dr. Peng Telecom & Media Group.

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PLCN’s other investors are US tech giants Google and Facebook. It will link Los Angeles and Hong Kong while branches to the Philippines are being built by Facebook, a part of a tripartite deal with the DICT and the Bases Conversion and Development Authority, the builder of the Luzon Bypass.

“Of course, we are worried if it will affect our Luzon Bypass agreement,” DICT Undersecretary Eliseo Rio Jr. told the Inquirer on Thursday.

“We are clarifying this with Facebook,” he added. A Facebook Philippines spokesperson  did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Luzon Bypass project will provide a land-based alternative to undersea cable operators—which carry most of the world’s data traffic—seeking to avoid damage to their infrastructure in the earthquake-prone Luzon Strait.

Rio earlier said the project would  be finished within the year while the Facebook cable branch would be completed by next year.

The Facebook cable is expected to provide Filipinos with a cheaper source of bandwidth. Apart from the Luzon Bypass project, most of the country’s landing stations are controlled by telco industry giants PLDT Inc. and Globe Telecom.

In exchange for the use of the Luzon Bypass project, Facebook will provide the Philippine government with an annual capacity of two terabits per second free of charge, the DICT previously announced.

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That amount is equivalent to about 170 standard-definition movies or over 50,000 songs every second.

The DICT said the capacity, valued at P4.8 billion a year based on prevailing rates, would be used to power a variety of government initiatives, including its free Wi-Fi project.

Rio said other customers apart from Facebook could also use the Luzon Bypass project.

China Telecom, the state-run firm that joined the consortium that won the Duterte administration’s third telco initiative in 2018, said last November that it would study the construction of an undersea cable to the Philippines using the Luzon Bypass project.

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TAGS: Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), Internet, P975-million Luzon Bypass Infrastructure, US-China submarine cable
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