The Philippine Government and Facebook to create the Luzon Bypass Infrastructure

The Philippine government partnered with Facebook to build a new Internet infrastructure project. The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) , the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), and Facebook launched a project called the Luzon Bypass Infrastructure. It is essentially a landing party agreement.

Together, they will build a high-speed broadband infrastructure to boost the speed, affordability, and accessibility of broadband Internet in the country. It should be online by the end of 2019.  The planned Luzon Bypass Infrastructure will have ‘a spectrum equivalent to at least two million Mbps.’

This alone is near the combined capacity of Globe and PLDT (around 2.3 million Mbps).

They call it the Strategic Engagement and Collaboration to Undertake a Reliable and Efficient Government Internet, or in short, SECURE GovNet. It took about a year of negotiations, but the agreement has been signed, and is now in the works.

What is the project exactly?

Facebook will build a submarine cable system connecting the USA and Asia to the Philippines. It will construct a submarine cable system that connects to a cable station on the east coast of Luzon (in Baler, Aurora). Facebook will also construct another cable system from the Asian continent to a cable station on Luzon west coast (at Poro Point, La Union).

The government shall construct the Luzon Bypass Infrastructure, which  will connect both cable stations to each other. The BCDA will construct the 250-kilometer terrestrial cable network. The DICT will build the government Internet connections and manage it. The plan is to build a broadband system for use in public areas with speeds at up to 100Mbps (free public wifi program) and develop the government’s other connectivity programs.

The land-based bypass infrastructure will allow Facebook to connect the USA with Asia without having to construct cables in the typhoon and earthquake-prone Luzon Strait (the body of water between the Philippines and China).

BCDA will build the Luzon Bypass Infrastructure to connect the Baler and Poro Point cable stations

What’s in it for Facebook and the Philippines?

A lot. This is a HUGE project, and it will be the most direct information highway from the US to Asia. It will skip large distances and middlemen. In terms of costs, this would save Facebook from payment of so many charges.

It is also a safer route. The Luzon Strait is notorious for multiple submarine cable breakdowns. Immediate repairs can be hard or expensive because of the harsh seas and typhoons that would affect the area. By going through a land route through Luzon, the dangers of the Luzon Strait are avoided. This arrangement also gives Facebook greater security in the event that China decides to rock the status quo and disrupt navigation in the South China/West Philippine Sea. Facebook would not be afraid of being cut off because its cable system would bypass the Luzon Strait (which would be where a blockade would be made).

In return for being allowed to use the Luzon Bypass, Facebook will reserve at least 2 million Mbps for Philippine use. That’s 2 terabytes per second (note that the COMBINED capacity of Globe and PLDT is 2.3 terabytes). The Luzon Bypass Infrastructure will connect to other government IT infrastructure.

There is sure to also be an ex-deal here where Facebook would be made available free for use. A huge third world population like the Philippines getting free Facebook access would mean a lot of advertising revenue for Facebook. The benefit it gets for its partnership with the Philippine government will be lucrative in the long run.

Is the arrangement unfair or one-sided?

Free or inexpensive high-speed Internet will benefit all of us. It will allow us to connect faster and will help the economy. The Land Bypass Infrastructure will benefits both parties. The Philippines has one of the slowest and most expensive Internet markets in the world. This will improve Internet speed and increase availability throughout the country. It will support government programs to deliver free Wifi in public places and improve online government services. It will pressure companies to provide better Internet speeds and availability to their clients.

The Luzon Bypass will also give an alternative to cable systems that use the Luzon Strait. It can service other companies who may want to connect to the Philippines instead of using the Luzon Strait cable systems.

Facebook is obviously doing this for itself, but the Philippines will definitely benefit from this arrangement. This might spell trouble for other telecommunications companies. They may complain that this project makes the government a competitor in their industry.  It makes one wonder if this was among the reasons why the former head of the DICT recently “resigned.”

You can read the official press release and watch the project launch presentation HERE.

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