The Manila Times : Next DICT chief assures faster internet to aid PH's bid to become logistics hub

By CIH | The Manila Times

THE country will have the information technology (IT) infrastructure and bandwidth for faster internet connectivity required to realize the plans of President-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. (BBM) of transforming the Philippines into the next shipping and logistics hub in the region.

Lawyer and information technology expert Ivan John Uy made this projection in an interview with some maritime reporters shortly after Filipino Shipowners Association (FSA) leaders met with International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) Chairman Esben Paulsson at the Manila Peninsula recently.

Uy has been chosen by the incoming president to take the helm of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).
Uy is not new to government, having served under President Benigno Aquino 3rd as chairman of the then-Commission on Information and Communications Technology.

"It's a big challenge because we're an archipelago, but we're getting there," he said, referring to the huge requirement in terms of internet connectivity to modernize the country's ports.

The incoming DICT chief made the statement in the light of the president-elect's plans to turn the country into a logistics hub. Then presidential candidate Marcos made public his plan, if elected, to make Philippine ports at par with the best in the region.

"We have to upgrade our present facilities; we have to match the efficiencies that the big ports enjoy and that is through technological redevelopment," Uy said during the virtual forum organized by the Philippine Inter-island Shipping Association (PISA).

This will require "port automation, use of artificial intelligence to prevent port congestion if we are to operate the ports properly in such a way that we can lower shipping cost and make it attractive for operators to come to our ports."

He underscored the need for a vastly improved IT infrastructure to achieve this as evident in the experience of developed countries in the region such as Singapore and Hong Kong.

"There are technologies that have been deployed in Europe and neighboring Asian countries. They now have what they call smart ports which utilize the best in terms of sharing data, in terms of IA to manage key port operations. "And the highly sensitive port operation is a hugely technical process, we need all the best technologies we can find (to become a logistics hub)," he told PISA officers.

"My department (DICT) can take care of the telecommunications side, but the infrastructure side will have to be [undertaken by] the Department of Transportation (DoTr)," Uy said.

Uy's confidence stemmed from the fact that the outgoing administration of President Duterte had managed to achieve significant headway in laying out the country's IT infrastructure.

"We have several broadband projects that are coming. Our Facebook landing station that's coming from the US has already been set up in Baler, Aurora. It is connected already to Poro Point then to Clark," he announced.

The incoming DICT secretary referred to the landing station in Baler and Poro Point in La Union for the underwater fiber optic cable from the US.

Once fully operational "that's up to 2 terabits of speed; that's two terabits of information," estimated Uy, who also served as a chief information officer at the Supreme Court.

When pressed by reporters for the timeline of a considerably improved internet interconnectivity, Uy, speaking in English and Filipino, said: "Hindi pa nga ako nakakaupo. After June 30 pa uupo si president-elect, but ngayon palang nagtatrabaho na kami."

He does recognize the challenges posed by the country's archipelagic nature, saying it's not profitable to connect the islands through fiber optic.

"We have the technology, but it's not ideal for our land based. In rural areas, it can be more expensive if we lay cable to those islands," he pointed out.

Uy also mentioned the recent entry into the local market of Elon Musk's Starlink which uses satellites for internet connections. "We will use the satellite technology of Starlink; we have signed their value added license."

Uy said Starlink has committed to provide a capacity of 200 mbps at the cost of $500 or about P25,000.

"It's costly, but if you put it to use in a school with 100 students, it's OK,"he rationalized.

But what is more important, he said, is that the next chief Executive is giving top priority to improving internet connectivity throughout the country.

"The good thing about it is this is a flagship project of BBM — the connectivity and internet access even in remote areas because people there are really hard-up. The private sector does not wish to invest because they will lose money; the cable is costly but the population is small," Uy said.

Because of this priority of the next administration, Uy does not see any serious obstacle in providing the IT infrastructure requirements for the incoming president to modernize ports for his plan to transform the country into a logistic hub.