Ike Señeres .
Fifth of a series
IT is wrong to say that the government is bidding out frequencies for a “third telco.” That is so because as it is now, there are so many telcos already except that none of them are big enough to compete with the two major players. With that as a background, it would therefore be more accurate to say that the government is bidding out frequencies so that a “third major telco player” could emerge. As I see it however, there is something wrong with this paradigm, apparently for two main reasons. Firstly, a telco needs more than just frequencies to fully operate. Secondly, the emergence of a “third major telco player” is really more the outcome of market behaviour rather than that of a government intervention. Looking back into what happened in the past, it now appears that President Rodrigo Roa Duterte was referring more to a “third major wireless services provider” rather than a “third telco.”
As I understand it, a telco is supposed to provide both fixed lines and wireless services, the latter supposedly a combination of terrestrial and satellite solutions. In the case of fixed lines, it should supposedly be a combination of copper and fiber solutions, being the technological reality now. Needless to say, without openly saying it, these telcos are also supposed to provide good and fast internet services, using a combination of fixed lines and wireless options, including both terrestrial and satellite solutions. I believe that this should be the overall framework, because as I recall it, President Duterte was not just talking about making wireless services better, he was also talking about making internet services faster. Looking back, I believe that the President might have been talking about improving broadband services, which is actually a combination of both fixed lines and wireless services.
Looking at this overall equation, it seems that what we have now is a “chicken and the egg” situation, because there is now a question of improving either the means of connectivity, or the service itself, being the outcome of the means. If I am to interpret what the President said, I would tend to think that what he wants is not only better mobile services, but also faster internet services. To some extent, that would sound like begging the question, because having better mobile services could also mean faster internet services. As clear as that may be however, we should wake up to the reality that faster internet services could be achieved not only by means of mobile means, but also via fixed cable and fiber lines, as well as via satellite. As a matter of fact, we now have reached the era wherein satellite signals are now supplemented or enhanced by both drones and balloons.
In the midst of what appears to be unclear, we should make it very clear that there is no shortage of frequencies, except that as of now, there is no “third major telco player” that has enough frequencies to be able to compete with the two other existing “major telco players.” What is also clear is that we really do not have a complete inventory of existing fixed line and wireless broadband connections, and yet we are already talking about building a totally new National Broadband Network (NBN) on top of whatever existing broadband connections that we already have. That is like insisting on the importation of rice on the pretext that we have a shortage, but without showing the actual data of whatever existing domestic production that we already have as local inventories.
In the past, I have been advocating the production of a National Fiber Map (NFM), but I am now changing my advocacy to push for a National Broadband Map (NBM) instead. My point here is very simple, that we should first inventory what we have, before we decide to spend money on what we might already have. I have nothing against building an NBN, but I think that we could just build over or add to whatever broadband infrastructure that we already have, based on what the outcome of the NBM project would show us. As it is now however, I would venture to guess that we might already have some of the broadband infrastructure that we need, except that there is a limited number of pass through and interconnection agreements between and among the owners of broadband assets, including both fixed and wireless.
True to the goal of using “technology for society,” I am volunteering myself as the organizer or convenor of these pass through and interconnection agreements. As a former diplomat, I believe that I have the skills necessary not only to bring opposing parties to the negotiating table, but also to make them agree to some mutually beneficial agreements. As I recall from my diplomacy days, a successful negotiation is one where both sides would walk away “half happy”. That is so because if one side walks away happier than the other, it would not take long before the unhappy side would again rock the boat. From a technical standpoint, we are really talking about shared services such as common cell sites and interconnected cables. While we are at it, we should also include my advocacy for a National Internet Exchange (NIX) and a National Cookies Cache Depot (NCCD).