March 6, 2017 8:27 pm JST

Duterte approves plan to boost broadband nationwide

Despite its surging economy, the Philippines is plagued by poor internet coverage

MANILA (Reuters) -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte approved on Monday a broadband internet plan, estimated to cost up to $4 billion, aimed at boosting access and service quality in a country growing at one of the world's fastest rates but lagging behind peers in connectivity.

The Southeast Asian nation is plagued by poor internet coverage and low bandwidth, frustrating businesses and consumers, which complain of lackluster services. The telecoms duopoly of PLDT Inc and Globe Telecom Inc have already been warned by Duterte to shape up, or face new competition.

"President Duterte has approved the establishment of a National Government Portal and a National Broadband Plan," agriculture minister Emmanuel Pinol said in a Facebook post after a Cabinet meeting.

Pinol said Duterte had emphasized the need for faster internet connection by rolling out a broadband plan that includes the deployment of fiber optics cables and wireless technologies.

Details of the project are yet to be announced. Department of Information and Communications Technology Secretary Rodolfo Salalima has earlier estimated the project could cost somewhere between 77 billion pesos ($1.53 billion) to 200 billion pesos ($3.98 billion).

The five-year plan revives a project from the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a key ally of Duterte, whose government had to abandon a $329 million broadband plan involving China's ZTE Corp in 2007 due to allegations of graft connected to the deal.

The new plan aims to connect government offices across the country and increase internet penetration, especially in far-flung areas.

It would benefit the country's $23 billion Business Process Outsourcing sector, which employs over a million Filipinos and has recorded double-digit growth for the past decade.

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