THE Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) is expecting to finish by early 2020 the first phase of the backbone facility for the National Broadband Plan, and around the same time see the completion of a feasibility study that will determine the next phases of the project.

In a briefing Tuesday, DICT Undersecretary Denis F. Villorente said the process of tapping the dark fiber assets from the National Transmission Corp. (TransCo) and National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) will continue this year, making up Phase 1 of the project.

“We have a budget of P1 billion this year, which the Congress provided so we can initially light up some part of that fiber that’s owned by TransCo, managed by NGCP… If the timeline is followed, that should happen by first or second quarter next year, Phase 1,” he said.

The pilot testing of the fiber backbone facility was started in late 2018 — in preparation for the firing up of portions of the 6,154-kilometer dark fiber network this year.

For Phase 2 and 3 of the project, which cover linking all provinces across the country to the backbone through submarine cable, a feasibility study is still in the works.

“We have a detailed engineering study that is being funded by the US government through their trade and development agency over a six-month period. That will provide the details for up to Phase 2 and 3 of the backbone,” he said, noting he expects it to finish by the first quarter of next year.

Part of the feasibility study is identifying which areas in the Philippines are “undeserved and unserved,” or the jurisdictions that telecommunications operators Globe Telecom, Inc. and PLDT, Inc. are unable to reach with their networks.

“The feasibility study is toward creating a project pipeline so we can understand what the government may want to invest on to improve broadband services available to citizens in all these jurisdictions. These are not highly urbanized cities but they will be connected to secondary cities,” Mr. Villorente said.

The DICT undersecretary said that the backbone work itself would cost around P10 billion, but the department hopes to partner with providers that may want to invest in the country to help in the National Broadband Plan.

He cited the DICT partnership with a subsidiary of Singapore-based HyalRoute Group in May, which will allow it to provide a fiber network across the country which it may lease to telcos.

“(The implementation of the project) is really dependent on budget availability, or partnership with third parties who may be interested in doing it by using their own capital,” Mr. Villorente said.

“If it will be funded by government, it’s a budget issue. If we can find a partner willing to invest to do it, (it could be handled differently),” he added. — Denise A. Valdez