Wired! Philippines

 

 

Linking The Philippines to the World
By Dr. Rodolfo M. Villarica

For the Baguio Convention of the Philippine Institute of Chemical Engineers, February 17, 1995

I was first invited to address you, the Captains of Business, Industry and Technology, on the occasion of your Golden Anniversary Celebration six years ago. Just like before, I am indeed honored.

When Ferdinand Magellan first came to our shores in March 1521, the Philippines was linked to the Old and New World although it had been linked to Asia for a long time. When the first man landed on the moon, the Philippines was likewise linked to the moon through the Filipino engineer who designed the lunar rover. Today, through our valiant overseas workers and adventurous immigrants, the Philippines is not only linked to all countries but has, as it were, invaded all countries in the world.

When the telegraph came to our shores, again we were linked to the world through airwaves. And the radio and telephone linked us by voice. Undersea cables and satellites facilitated and rendered more economic those communication links to the world. The entry of the telex introduced the marvels of data links but this was soon replaced by the ubiquitous fax machines which have made world-wide links a household commodity. And now, the much talked about information highway has eclipsed all past developments, making available multi-media communications the by-word, which in layman's language means that eventually, one can not only send and receive data but also achieve voice and video conferences, not to mention have easy access to video entertainment and even virtual reality in the near future.

Before we get carried away too much into the wonderful world of communications and computers, let me narrow down the subject of our talk today to "How the Philippines is linked to the World of Internet". We have heard of that chaotic network of networks, called the Internet, a global network of computers communicating under one set of guidelines, formally called Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). It was originally started by the U. S. Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPANET) in 1969 for the purpose of efficient communications and the sharing of resources. The first four supercomputers linked by means of a 56 Kbps leased telephone line were at UCLA, UCSB, SRI and University of Utah. In 1983, ARPANET split into ARPANET and MILNET. In 1985, the National Science Foundation (NSF) began the NSFNET backbone. In 1990, the Department of Defense disbanded ARPANET and NSFNET became the principal backbone network of Internet. Dr. Steve Goldstein of the NSF told us that the subsidy of NSF for Internet was $ 23 million annually.

Paradoxically, here is a network of networks that operates freely and free-wheelingly, owned by no one, but for which the NSF sets policies. The guidelines and communications language (TCP/IP) are set by the Internet Society (ISOC), Internet Architecture Board (IAB) and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). The networks attached to Internet are governed by Acceptable Use Policy (AUP).

The resources available through Internet are mind-boggling in enormity, starting from the U. S. Library of congress, world weather information, mountains of Research and Development data, discussion groups of every topic one can think of (and prudes don't even want to think of), live arctic exploration coverage, daily schedules of President Clinton, etc. etc. etc. Most of the information is for free but some for a fee. In addition to all of these is the latest facility in communications called e-mail, short for electronic mail. Every message is postmarked, dated and time-marked to the second. This is the ultimate in personal communications. One can even "talk" through the keyboard with anyone logged on anywhere in the world.

Today, all over the world, there are more than 100 countries connected to Internet. There are at least 40,000 networks, more than two million hosts and over 25 million users. Te rate of growth of users is estimated at 2-3% per month. Although initially installed for military, research, academic and government purposes, the Internet has now been available for commercial use.

How then, we may ask, did the Philippines get linked to the cyberspace world of Internet and to the real world as well?

In the late eighties, Dr. Bill Torres, then head of the National Computer Center, tried to gain access to Internet. But he left the agency before he could achieve this. Meanwhile, quite a few computer buffs in the universities, such as Arnie del Rosario and Ritchie Lozada of ADMU and Kelsey Go of DLSU discussed this and even made proposals to bring this about but it was not until early 1993 that they and a serious group held a lot of meetings that led to the experimental first phase of the country's gateway to Internet, aptly called PHnet.

The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) through its then Secretary Ricardo Gloria and then Undersecretary William G. Padolina boldly underwrote, in June 1993, the first phase of PHnet, set up by a young group of computer specialists (called the Technical Committee) from UP. La Salle, Ateneo, ASTI and DOST itself. It consisted of a limited electronic facility with dial-up access (connecting by a long distance phone call) to Internet through the kindness of the Victoria University of Technology (VUT).

Ateneo University (ADMU) was the anchor access node that uploaded (that is, sent) and downloaded (that is, received) mainly email from VUT through long distance phone connections. In turn, UP, DLSU and DOST would dial up ADMU and upload and download their email. Individual users then logged in to their host sites and checked his mailbox to read and/or send email. It was expensive but so successful that the DOST in principle approved the funding for the second phase which was to establish a nation-wide network and the Philippine Network Foundation, Inc. (PFI), the organization to run and operate the network. Since the DOST needed a corporate vehicle to endow with the Grant-in-Aid for establishing the network, called PHnet and the foundation, named Philippine Network Foundation, Inc., the Industrial Research Foundation (IRF), an existing foundation, was tapped for the task. Being a new trustee of IRF, I was in turn assigned to the task. I was out of the country when the Grant-In-Aid was approved on November 25 1993 for P 12.5 million. Shortly after I arrived, our executive director, Mr. Cesar Santos, informed me that I was the Project Administrator. I held my first meeting with the Technical Committee on December 15. The IRF chairman, Mr. Meneleo Carlos, Jr., and I immediately arranged for meetings with five of the major telecommunications carriers before Christmas. We decided to establish the network and the foundation at the same time, in order to shorten the implementation period. At each meeting, we would invariably be asked whether we had the money and I said, "No." There would always be a moment of silence. But that did not slow down our negotiation with them or with the equipment suppliers.

On a courtesy call to Secretary Gloria a day after New Year, Dr. Gloria asked if we could attain access to Internet by April so he could demonstrate this to President Ramos. Knowing that there was no release of money yet, no decisions on carriers or equipment purchase and realizing by this time that there were long lead times on equipment delivery and phone connections both locally and internationally, we promised to try our best.

On Tuesday, March 29, 1994 at 10:18 A.M. at the University of San Carlos (USC), Talamban, Cebu, the Philippines was linked to the world via Internet.

The occasion was the first International Email Conference organized by Dr. John D. Brule of Syracuse University and USC. A cheer went up at the plenary conference. Cebu was again the point of contact with the world as it was in 1521.

The PFI was finally incorporated in August, five months after the Phnet was operational. Its charter members are: Ateneo de Manila University, De la Salle University, Industrial Research Foundation, St. Louis University, University of the Philippines Diliman, University of the Philippines Los Banos, University of San Carlos, Cebu, University of Santo Tomas, and Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro. Included among the founding members are the Department of Science and Technology and the Advance Science and Technology Institute. Soon to be "regular" members are Mindanao State University (IIT) and UP Manila.

Thus, Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao are connected to the PHnet. The initial "preferred" members of PFI are the Asian Development Bank, Mosaic Communications, Inc., the Asian Institute of Management and the International Rice Research Institute. Shortly to be a Preferred Members is Philippine Data Exchange Group, Inc. There are more than ten associate members.

The IRF is likewise operating an "access node" at Padilla Building and is accepting memberships both for associate and individual users.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a demonstration of access to the Internet will be more so. But before we do that, I would just like to expand a little on a very small aspect of Internet access and that is, email and "chat" mode.

Email is an extremely convenient and inexpensive mode of communications. One can send email to one or many persons at the same time, in an instant. Upon receipt of an email message, one can also reply to the message line for line, making insertions on the original message. That message can further be replied to and bounced back and forth almost ad infinitum, quoting even the first message. And it can be sent to multiple receivers, each appending his/her comment on the original message. And it takes only a few moments to do so.

 

"Chat" mode is achieved when another person is logged in at the same time, either coincidentally or by appointment. A conversation via keyboard can be carried on in real time, with the option of recording the whole transaction, if you wish, so as to have a record of what "he said" and "you said." Soon, a multiparty discussion will be set up. And there are plans for video-conferencing to be available here in the Philippines at low costs.

Therefore, even if one initially subscribes to Internet access as an individual user only for email with relatives, friends, associates or acquaintances abroad, it is already worth the small membership fees.

So, please sit back and relax. We shall now have our demonstration of exploring cyberspace that is Internet.

Thank you.

 



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