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Philippines logs on to Starlink for remote area internet services

Comms ministry boss sees space as preferable to messing around with mountaintop builds

The Philippines is considering SpaceX's Starlink satellite internet service as a means to provide access for remote communities.

The nation of 7,100 islands and 110 million souls has a policy of implementing free Wi-Fi in all public spaces, so citizens can access digital government services and the economic opportunities of the internet.

That policy was adopted in 2017 and progress towards universal coverage has been slow but steady.

Laying fiber or establishing cell towers in mountainous areas can be challenging

Ivan John E. Uy, recently appointed secretary of the Philippines Department of Information and Communications Technology under the administration of newly elected president Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, thinks Starlink could speed things up.

"This [Starlink] will bridge the digital divide in the country especially in an archipelagic country like the Philippines where laying fiber cables or establishing cell towers in mountainous areas can be challenging," Uy said at an event in Manila yesterday.

Uy framed the meeting, which was also attended by local representatives of SpaceX, as evidence the Marcos government is moving fast to fulfil its promise of improving connectivity across the sprawling nation.

In truth, the previous government courted SpaceX in late 2021, and the Elon Musk-controlled company was encouraged to create a local entity so it could be eligible to operate a communications service.

SpaceX plans to commence operations in the Philippines in late 2022.

The company's senior manager for government affairs, Rebecca Hunter, told the event that SpaceX's terrestrial equipment costs $599 and monthly service starts at $99. Those sums are out of reach to most of the Filipinos who reside in the kind of locations Uy imagines connecting to the service.

The Philippines government, though, can afford the cost of a Starlink service – and will probably save plenty compared to the capital expenditure involved in wiring remote islands or regions.

If Starlink gets some of that work, it will be a feather in the company's cap. It will demonstrate its ability to offer robust service in out-of-the-way places, and to provide a public service that terrestrial carriers either cannot provide or cannot deliver at reasonable cost. ®

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