A genuine national information network not the NBN/ZTE deal

When people do not have access to information services and telecommunications, and governance is hampered by slow coordination between the national and local government units, any improvement to the use and access of new technology is always welcome. Contrary to what this blog and the economics professors thought, we cannot leave connectivity and information services to the whims of profit nor should we leave it to a corrupt government.

I think we should differentiate the need for a genuine nationalized telecommunications network from the current NBN/ZTE deal that everyone, including the Senate, is talking about. One speaks of the need of our people to connect with each other, and the other smacks of paybacks, connections and lies.

The NBN deal: deeper into debt, deeper into corruption

The NBN project aims to interconnect 2,295 government agencies and 23,549 municipalities and barangays. The envisioned network will be financed by a government loan from the Chinese government as an Official Development Assistance (ODA). ODAs involving tied loans will favor the Chinese government and Chinese companies but not the Filipino people. In the end, the Philippine government will need to obtain millions from Filipino taxpayers to repay the debts incurred from the deal.

In addition, the NBN contract, instead of providing genuinely accessible communication facilities to the countryside, seemed to have been signed into just to fatten pockets of some government officials as the revelations of Jose de Venecia III show. Even if the NBN deal improves the communications between government agencies, it will still fail to sustain a national communications network because of the corruption and kickbacks of the current administration and its dependence on foreign technologies, expertise and financing.

The government is not new to such‭ ‬huge network.‭ ‬The DOST-ASTI maintains a similar network which interconnects different research institutions nationwide.‭ ‬Philippine Research,‭ ‬Education,‭ ‬and Government Information Network‭ (‬PREGINET‭) ‬has at least‭ ‬16‭ ‬access points for use of its partners all over the archipelago‭ [‬1‭]‬.‭ ‬On PREGINET,‭ ‬local partners connect to one of the access points which has direct connections to one of the‭ ‬4‭ ‬exchange points.‭ ‬The exchange points are then connected to the ASTI.

The view expressed by economists Fabella and de Dios assert that the NBN deal should be left to private telecommunications firms. They strongly abhor government control on the telecommunications industry which has expanded service coverage only in profitable areas. But was privatization ever beneficial to the people?

We can cite the power industry experience under the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 (EPIRA) as an example of the failed promises of privatization. Contrary to what has been claimed during the passage of the law, the EPIRA has not caused any real decrease in power rates. Aside from the initial and fleeting 30 centavo Power Act reduction, there has been no substantial decrease in power rates due to the EPIRA. Instead, the EPIRA has legitimized the onerous Purchased Power Adjustments from contracts entered into by the NAPOCOR and has led to increasing rates.

As advocates of science and technology for the people, we from AGHAM maintain that infrastructures such as a telecommunications backbone should be a responsibility of the government. Such a network which can provide the countryside with accessible communications facility must be part of the government services provided to facilitate industrial activity, commercial trading and domestic day-to-day activities.

Improving telecommunication services by using modern technologies, without corruption and foreign interests, will always be a welcome development for the people. ###

No comments: