Web of Conspiracy

The Philippine National Broadband Network (NBN) Project
by: Jerry Liao

Here we go again, a government project hounded by controversy and accusations. I am talking about the $ 330million National Broadband Network deal entered by the Philippine government with Chinese firm ZTE Corporation. Cases were already filed with the Ombudsman and the Supreme COurt. Investigations in both Senate and Congress are already being prepared.

Before we go any further, let me just tell you what a broadband network is all about. A broadband network is a network that enables a device to transmit a large amount of information (including voice, data and video) on the same cable over long distances at a rate of more than 1.5 million bits of information per second.

Going back to the issue, not only is the deal anomalous as claimed by many, money seems to be exchanging and offered left and right. Former National Economic and Development Authority secretary now Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Chairman Romulo L. Neri in a radio interview over DZBB came short of admitting that he was offered P 200 million in relation to the NBN deal. When asked by radio host Arnold Clavio as to what led Neri to reject the offer, Neri simply said that he is afraid of “karma”.

Neri during the interview said that the only advantage he can see with regards to the government-to-government agreement with China is it offers the lowest interest at three percent. With this, the goverment automatically gets savings as much as 40-percent discount from the project. The long term benefit of the project according to Neri is it will bring down the cost of telecommunications in the Philippines eventually.

Let us say that indeed the country will save the stated numbers, but what I want to see and hear is how much are we going to incur in as far as operating the project is concern? Who will run the project once done? When will the project be accomplished? Time involves money. How will the network be used? By whom? How much will the usage be for the consumers?

Another angle that I really find so funny was the defense of COMELEC chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. for his alleged role in the contract. In a television interview, Abalos said that all he did was to be a good host and there was no way he could be involved because he is not even aware of what a broadband is. If that is true, then how did the chairman evaluated fairly the COMELEC computerization project? Is the chairman saying that the broadband connection was not considered during the project evaluation since he is not aware what a broadband is all about? How will the election data be transmitted? Anyway, that’s another story altogether.

I also want to mention that other countries do have their own broadband network initiatives, and most if not all are discussing its plans on how it will be built and how will it benefit its citizenry. Ours is different, we are discussing who benefitted from this project to the extent that even the members of the American and European Chambers of Commerce are now interested to know what really went on with the deal. They want transparency. Why? Because they will be using the infrastructure as well, and users have the right to know – more so the citizen of this country.

I don’t have any issues with regards to the country implementing a broadband network. Modern communication services requires broadband network and from the economical point of view, utilizing having a network for multiple services is an advantage. This will enhance communications, entertainment, healthcare, games, computing, business productivity, security, education, job training and many other areas common to people’s daily lives. However, if doubts surrounds a project, I believe a second look is needed. Not only about the project price but the project details as well.

And when I say project details, I just don’t mean the ZTE NBN deal alone. I want to see how the government intends to use the network. Do we have the applications in place already that warrants such a bandwidth? Do we have the proper procedures already? Why buy a new supersonic jet when you don’t even know how to fly an ordinary single engine plane? Although it’s a loan, people’s money will be used to pay for these loans. I hate to see a situation where a high speed communication infrastructure will result to a higher taxes for Filipinos.

Malacañang already said that the government will not cancel the project just because of the uproar, and will only answer allegations in court. I am not a lawyer and thank God, I am not a politician. As an ordinary citizen of this country, I am just saddened that a good project like having our own broadband network will turn into a controversy. Well, if you live long enough here in the Philippines, you might just say – “What’s NEW?” Look at the bright side, at least anomalies are now happening in high-tech deals, and not to ordinary projects like garbage collections or buying office supplies.

Anyway, I will just leave you my readers with one question to answer – Do we need a fiber optic backbone now? Or do we need to have a moral backbone first? Can the government be the first one to answer this please?

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