Gov't wants to build ₱200-B national broadband network

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Children play computer games at an internet cafe in Tondo, Manila.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The Philippines is gearing up to build a nationwide broadband network that will help bring Internet to the countryside.

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) has proposed to the President a national broadband network that will run across the country, linking previously unserved, rural areas.

If approved, the project will start this January and take three years to complete, ICT Secretary Rodolfo Salalima told reporters on Tuesday.

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The cost will range anywhere between about P80 billion and P200 billion, depending on the type of network the government will build and how it will choose to manage it.

During his meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte in October, Salalima recommended that the government build and manage the network, with private companies allowed to lease it.

This could prove attractive to telcos, since they have no networks of their own in the countryside.

They have been unable to reach these areas because of a lack of basic infrastructure like roads, bridges and airports. Putting up their own Internet infrastructure would take costs even higher.

By setting up networks in these so-called "missionary areas," the government hopes to lay the groundwork — so telcos can come in and begin to offer much-needed Internet services to the residents there, Salalima said.

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Another option is for the government, not only to build and manage the national broadband network, but also act as a "full-blown, third-party operator" as well, the ICT chief said.

It would effectively be entering the market and competing with telco giants Globe Telecom, Inc. and Smart Communications, Inc.

But he was quick to explain: "That is too premature. We cannot compete with the telcos right now. We would have to conduct feasibility studies first before we explore that."

The DICT is also reviewing the most cost-efficient national broadband network for the country.

Salalima said it could lay down fibre-optic cables or tap satellites. The agency could also work with the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines, tapping its existing power lines for broadband.

"That is why we only have rough estimates for the costs. It could still change depending on what the President approves," he said.

Nevertheless, Salalima said the government would be open to private sector partners — even foreign ones — to help take on the massive project.

He admitted "two big Chinese firms" had already approached the DICT to offer their services.