High-speed internet in Virac still 12 months away – PLDT

It will take at least six months for the contractor of the Philippine Long Distance Telecommunications (PLDT) to complete the drilling works and installation of fiber optic cables for the initial phase of its project in Catanduanes.

This does not include the establishment of its cable landing station in Virac and the connection of the underground fiber optic cable to the existing overhead Fiber Home lines, which will take at least another six months to complete.

United Technologies Inc. site engineer Jan Vincent Labajosa disclosed last week that the project was supposed to start in January 2020 but difficulties in securing the necessary permits in the concerned local government units and the imposition of the COVID-19 quarantine caused a three-month delay.

The company has deployed two Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD) machines in the installation of the underground polyethylene pipes that will carry the fiber optic cables.

Aside from laying 16,700 meters of pipeline from the Balite endpoint of the submarine cable to its Francia terminal point, the company will also construct along the line total of 29 concrete manholes about 1.5 meters deep.

The fiber optic cables alone has a total length of 17.8 kilometers along that line, with the pipeline diverting at the airport junction towards PLDT’s proposed Virac Cable Landing Station somewhere inside barangay San Isidro Village.

Internet service will be controlled by the cable landing station, with the signal from the underground fober optic lines to be fed to the existing fiber optic lines above ground along streets of Virac’s main populated barangays.

Engr. Labajosa and two other engineers paid a courtesy call on Governor Joseph Cua at the provincial capitol last week to inform the chief executive of the status of their project and secure approval of the special permit for the excavation and digging activities.

He told the chief executive that they are working on the first phase of the PLDT Domestic Fiber Optic Networkl (DFON) in Virac, which will run from Balite to Francia. The other phases, which will cover the entire 11 towns, will be presumably implemented in the coming years under PLDT’s “Fiber To The Home” program.

Records show that on Feb. 21, 2020, then Acting Governor Shirley Abundo requested the Sangguniang Panlalawigan for authority to grant the permit to PLDT and its contractor, with the provincial board’s Committee on Infrastructure recommending its approval based on certain conditions.

The SP subsequently approved Resolution No. 191-2020 on March 23 but it was only on June 4 that the company paid the excavation fee of P250 and supervision fee of P4.965.33 to the provincial treasury. It also posted a cash deposit of P33,102.20 performance bond with the PTO.

The surety is intended to cover the full restoration or reconstruction cost of the affected areas along the six kilometers of provincial road traversed by the pipeline.

A similar permit application was filed by United Technologies with the municipal government of Virac last January but it reportedly took three months for the concerned committee in the Sangguniang Bayan to recommend its approval after a series of hearings.

It may be recalled that in late 2018, PLDT officials met with Gov. Cua following widespread complaints from subscribers and users in the island regarding the slow speed of its internet service.

During the meeting, the telecoms company officials led by Christopher Dizon apologized for the slowdown and blamed the problem on the limited bandwidth of the existing Internet Protocol (IP) radio connection to the mainland.

For the past few years, the PLDT official bared, Catanduanes has been relying only on the upgrades of IP radio facilities from 100mbps to 1gbps in 2018.

They vowed to transform Catanduanes into an internet fiber community by 2020 once the company completes installation of the submarine fiber optic cable from the mainland to Virac.

“Our dream for Catanduanes is to make it a fiber province – the first fiber province in Bicol region,” said Dizon, who headed the PLDT Bicol Customer Service Operations Zone.

“We can offer a fiber-speed technology in 11 municipalities of Catanduanes and all of the barangays. We don’t have a limitation when we have a submarine cable,” he assured, adding that through the upgraded internet connection, the island will attract investors and that local commerce will further improve.

“What you need to have a progressive city, a progressive municipality is good communication – excellent communication. And we will provide that,” Dizon said.

“That’s why it’s worth investing here in Virac. There are lots of businesses, there are lots of investors here and it’s a developed municipality. So, we are on that target. We are going to that level to help Virac,” he added.

By June 2019, several months after the capitol meeting, PLDT started laying the submarine cable that would connect the proposed fiber optic network on the island to Sangay, Camarines Sur, with the cable laying ship “Subaru” of Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) World Engineering Marine Corporation doing the work.

The Catanduanes submarine cable project is part of the proposed connections in the National Broadband Plan for 2017-2022 of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).

Virac has been identified as a sub-regional growth center that will serve as the primary node of the domestic backbone on the island.

PLDT’s Domestic Fiber Optic Network (DFON), which is complemented  by  a  terrestrial  microwave  backbone  network  and  part  of  the 46,316-kilometer backbone  and  intermediate  fiber  optic  cable, is designed to deliver services to remote areas unreachable by the fixed terrestrial transport network.

In 2017, PLDT joined NTT Group and four other companies to begin construction “JUPITER”, a large-capacity optical submarine cable system linking the United States, Japan, and the Philippines.

The nation’s largest telecoms company invested P7 billion for the Trans-Pacific cable that will reinforce its undersea fiber links to the United States and Japan.

According to the company, Jupiter will directly connect Maruyama and Shima in Japan and Los Angeles in the US to Daet, PLDT’s cable landing station in Camarines Norte in the Philippines, with a total length of approximately 14,000 kilometers.

It will be able to transmit 60 terabytes of data per second (Tbps), faster than other active undersea cables. In plain terms, Jupiter has the speed to transmit approximately six hours of high vision images, or about three movies, in just one second, NTT disclosed.

Construction was supposed to be completed last March 2020 along with the work of laying the cables in the ocean, but apparently it has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

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