Dr. Rodolfo Villarica, Father of Internet in the Philippines
Dr. Rodolfo Villarica, Father of Internet in the Philippines
Dr. Rodolfo Villarica, considered one of the Fathers of Internet in the Philippines (the other is Dr. William Torres), belongs to the top ten most influential Filipinos on the Net in a poll conducted by The Web Philippines (read TWP's article here). As we celebrate the fifth year anniversary of Internet in the Philippines this March 29, it is only very timely that we feature Dr. Villarica, one of the pioneers of Internet in the country. Below is an interview with Doc V conducted by WIRED! Philippines.
WIRED! Philippines (W!P): How long have you been working in the IT industry and what have you been mostly involved and been working on?
Dr. Villarica (Doc V): I have been mainly a user of computers since 1978 when I bought my first Apple II.
W!P: As one of the founders and pioneers of Internet in the Philippines, how would you describe the state of IT in the country before PHNet?
Doc V: Before PHNet established full Internet access, communications between the IT industry and the rest of the world was mainly through expensive data exchange via long distance calls or, in the case of the more advanced IT companies, via international leased lines which cost an arm and a leg.
W!P: How was PHNet conceived? How did you get involved with it? What was your involvement in this project and how big was this involvement?
Doc V: PHNet was originally conceived by a group of computer buffs, led by Glen Sipin of DOST and under the full encouragement of then Undersecretary William G. Padolina who convinced then DOST Secretary Ricardo Gloria. To the credit of Secretary Gloria, he fully supported the idea of linking the Philippines with the rest of the world through Internet. Thus, Philnet Phase I was started in June, 1993 with a grant of P 50,000 to be spent for long distance calls to Victoria University of Technology which offered a free mailbox on its Internet account in Australia. This grant was supposed to last 6 months, with Ateneo de Manila University as the main hub/node that uploaded and downloaded email and file transfers from VUT. But after a few months, the grant ran out.
The Philnet technical committee, composed of students, scientists and teachers from ADMU, de la Salle University, University of Sto. Tomas, UP Diliman, UP los Banos, St. Louis University in Baguio, University of San Carlos, Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro and Advanced Science and Technology in UP campus, part of DOST, chaired by Mr. Glen Sipin of DOST, prepared a project study to be financed again by DOST for a full Internet access. With so many entities desiring to be the lead agency in implementing the proposed Philippine Internet backbone and nodes, the group decided to ask an independent outside party to set it up.
That was in October, 1993 when the Technical Committee requested the assistance of the Industrial Research Foundation, Inc., founded by a group of businessmen who have been helping inject relevancy into the work of DOST and which also has been successfully lobbying for legislation to increase the salaries of scientists in DOST for the good of the country's efforts to perform meaningful R & D-research and development. I was a newly inducted trustee to the IRF board and since I had made some noises about centralizing technical information from different schools and government agencies for easy access by industry, this project fell on my lap.
I was appointed Administrator of the Philnet Project Phase II, with a project study budget of P 8.5 million. I called a meeting of the Technical Committee to find out what this was all about, since I was leaving for the U.S. Right after the meeting, I sat with IRF Executive Director Cesar Santos and went over the budget, this time inserting an item here and there, which I found missing. I requested Mr. Santos to work on the budget for presentation to the DOST for funding.
When I came back at the end of November 1993, I called Mr. Santos who informed me that DOST had approved our budget. I then asked him how much, since I did not have time to total the amount after my suggested insertions. He replied that everything was approved and signed on November 24, 1993 for P 12.5 million Pesos.
[For more detailed information about this, here is the paper Doc V delivered during Baguio Convention of the Philippine Institute of Chemical Engineers in February 15, 1995. This was titled LINKING THE PHILIPPINES TO THE WORLD .]
W!P: What was the general vision and outlook of the people involved with the project back then?
Doc V: The people involved, namely the Technical committee, were extremely enthusiastic and all were looking forward to the tremendous and humongous information available on the Internet as well as making contact with people all over the world both through email and "chat" mode. The anticipation was incredible and the actual connection surpassed the imagination of all.
W!P: What were the hurdles or the difficulties you and the PHNet team faced during the different phases?
Doc V: The delays in equipment delivery, the obstacles at customs, the slow delivery of international and domestic leased lines and the port connection to Internet. All of these seemed insurmountable at that time. But looking back and seeing how slow ISPs get organized made us all realize that we performed exceedingly well against the odds. In fact, although it took four months to start operations from the date of DOST fund approval, it actually took only a little over two months from the time funds wee released- a remarkable feat!
W!P: PHNet was on its way when it successfully sent an e-mail to Australia on March 29. Who sent the message? What was the message?
Doc V: At 10:18 AM on March 29, 1994 at the first (and last!) International Email Conference organized by Dr. John D. Brule, professor at Syracuse University, NY, who has been coming to the Philippines to teach a semester at the University of San Carlos, PRO BONO, the first connection with Internet was a chat between Dr. Brule and his son, Mark, who was waiting on the other side of the world, in Syracuse, New York.
W!P: After that, what happened next? What were the other developments?
Doc V: After the nine universities and IRF itself were set up as ISPs, PHNet acted as an Incubator for commercial ISPs, such as Mozcom, Epicnet, etc. PHet also bagged as Preferred Members paying double rates, the Asian Development Bank and the International Rice Research Institute and others. The vision of PHNet and DOST was fulfilled- linking the Philippines to the world via networking. The unbelievable growth rate of Filipinos accessing Internet was one of the chief objectives. There are today, more than 168 ISPs outside of the academe.
W!P: How long did you head the project? And after five years, what is your involvement now?
Doc V: I was Chairman and President of PHNet for two years and passed on the mantle of management to Mr. Anthony L. Abaya, who today still heads it as Chairman and CEO, with Bombim Cadiz as president. I have remained a Trustee of the Board and its Vice Chairman.
W!P: How do you sum up the first five years of Internet in the Philippines?
Doc V: Incredible!
W!P: How do you see the future of Internet in the Philippines?
Doc V: If PLDT does not meter its calls, the growth rate will continue at a geometric rate. Already, the benefits have trickled down to the less fortunate and it has become a principal tool of business. In a short while, e-commerce is going to be prevalent.
W!P: What policies should be created in order to provide Internet access to majority of Filipinos?
Doc V: Government should provide FREE an Internet backbone all over the islands and it should subsidize the International leased lines- perhaps by purchasing a T-3 (45 megabit) leased line and making these available at low cost to ISPs and schools. In most countries, the schools have free connections.
Every barangay should have access to Internet; this will facilitate information dispersal to and retrieval from all sectors of society and from all over the country. Government can keep its finger on the pulse of the people. It will also unify the Filipinos since they will be able to communicate inexpensively with each other and spur business development.
W!P: Telephone metering is a very hot topic now. How do you perceive this problem we are facing? What do you think could be done to prevent or stop this impending metering? What do you think would be the implication of metering and how big is this going to be? What would be its effects to the Internet industry?
Doc V: As a founding member and director of PISO, the Philippine Internet Service Organization, I have supported our position against phone metering. Metering will set back Internet growth and deprive the less fortunate even more, from accessing information and communicating with each other.
W!P: What do you foresee for the country in relation to the Internet?
Doc V: If allowed to develop freely, Internet will bring the country to the 21st century and be highly competitive with other countries, not only in science, education and technology but also economically. Sure there are bad things on the Internet but the good far outweigh the undesirables. The Filipino must be given the opportunity to develop into mature and responsible citizens of the world. We cannot afford to be left behind by developments that are now leading to a convergence of technologies in date, voice and video.
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