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To boost connectivity, DICT eyes satellite internet services

THE government intends to procure satellite internet services—including that of Elon Musk’s SpaceX—by the first quarter of 2023 to provide connectivity to far- flung areas in the country.

At a press briefing on Wednesday, Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Secretary Ivan John Uy said he is now preparing the terms of reference for the auction for satellite internet services for far-flung areas for the first half of 2023.

He noted, however, that the ICT department is still in the preparation stage, pinpointing which communities will benefit from the project.

“We have to go through the procurement process. We cannot start with the procurement process unless we have proposals sent out in terms of reference and so on. We are preparing those, but in the meantime, they need to get their earth stations and equipment and their operations running,” Uy said.

The government will have to identify the communities that will benefit from the project, particularly those deemed “geographically isolated and disadvantaged,” based on the data from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), he added.

“We very well know that those areas, because of their remoteness and because they are on the sadder end of the digital divide . . . cannot afford technology such as this. The government will have to come in. We do have funds in order to deploy this free WiFi program. And we will work with the local governments on how we can, not only set up the equipment, set up the connectivity and provide the linkage, but look at how these could be sustainable,” Uy explained.

He did not disclose how much the remaining budget for the year is, but said DICT will ask Congress to allot a specific budget for this project, which will be placed under the Broadband ng Masa Program.

Uy said the budget needs to be an “integrated package” as the government is looking at providing the connectivity service in areas that also don’t have electricity.

“What will happen is we will provide and shoulder the community until such time that the DSWD can give feedback that those communities have already grew out of poverty,” he said, noting that indicators include “increased economic activity such as e-commerce, communication, and other online services.”

The government intends to provide the free satellite connectivity for about a year or two, and then “perhaps the government can cut the umbilical cord” after signs of progress.

The budget, Uy said, will depend on “how much [legislators] are willing to provide.”

“We are optimistic because we are more proactive than we have been. We anticipate this technology so I am already preparing all the documentation and requirements as of now so it will be ready to launch. Elon Musk is very fast in sending these satellites up there and very fast in deploying those things down here,” Uy said.

SpaceX Senior Manager Rebecca Hunter, the local representative of Starlink, said the group intends to start commercial operations by the last quarter of 2022.

“We really can make a lot of positive changes, positive impact in the Philippines,” she said.

Based on prevailing market prices, a Starlink Kit costs $599 for installation and $99 per month for the connectivity services.

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