1 June, Basco, Batan Island
Linking the islands to the world
Text by Ma. Liza A. Solano
Photos by Michael A.
Modern communications technology is bringing the remote
islands of Batanes closer to the mainland and even to the rest
of the world.
On February 9, the province joined the Internet community
with the opening of BatanesConnect in the capital, Basco, on
The Internet station, a project of the Ivatan Foundation
for Development Communications, Inc. (IFDCI), is located at
the public calling office on Abad street. It houses ten
computer terminals. The station charges 50 Philippine pesos
(US$1 at PhP50=$1) per hour or one peso per minute if the
usage is not more than 30 minutes.
IFDCI also provides Internet access to offices at the
provincial capitol and 16 other offices.
Executive director Demetrius "Demy" Narag says 10 more
offices are in the waiting list, including the Basco Central
Connecting Batanes to the Internet was not easy. It took
two years to implement the project, says Demy. It was
difficult to find the right partners.
The foundation was initially working with Netopia Computer
Technologies, a subsidiary of ePLDT which operates a chain of
Internet cafés. The project finally took off with PH Domain
Foundation, Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) and
Telesat, Inc., a PLDT subsidiary. PLDT provides the leased
line from the satellite integrator, Telesat, to Ph Domain.
PH Domain Foundation offers free e-mail service to remote
areas, namely Bontoc (Mountain Province, northern Luzon),
Gumaca (Quezon, southern Luzon), Anda (Pangasinan, northern
Luzon), Botolan (Zambales, central Luzon), and Iguig (Cagayan,
northern Luzon), under its "Libreng Serbisyong E-mail"
program. The group is the social outreach arm of dotPH, the
administrator for the ".ph" or Philippine domains.
"But we told them at the onset that we wanted Internet
surfing to be included," says Demy. He adds that PH Domain
helped the foundation to look for the satellite integrator.
"We're very lucky to work with them. We did not have the
technical expertise needed to put this project together." PH
Domain provides technical support for the project and trains
network administrators of IFDCI.
With Internet access now available in Batanes, the next
step is to encourage more people to use the Internet, says
Demy. "The Internet will not 'click' here until after two
years." He observes that the same people come to the Internet
Station. "We need to combat technophobia."
IFDCI offers free training, particularly to teachers and
even farmers. "We let people who have not yet used the
Internet to try it for free," he says. However, he notes that
many of those who come to the Internet station surf the Web
more for entertainment.
"We want to promote the Internet primarily for educational
and information purposes," Demy says.
It did not take long before the kids discovered that
Counter-Strike is installed in the computers. Demy says there
are two rules at the Internet station. No surfing of
pornographic sites. And kids are not allowed to play computer
games. But it is difficult to enforce these rules.
"I talked to one of the members of the Sangguniang Bayan
(municipal council) to author an ordinance to control Internet
use in Batanes," says Demy, hoping that would solve the
Asked if IFDCI will still operate BatanesConnect when
for-profit Internet cafés begin to mushroom in Batanes, Demy
says the project will continue if the services it provides are
IFDCI, a non-stock, non-profit organization established in
1997, seeks to "develop an integrated information, education
and communications program for Batanes with the aid of modern
telecommunications and information technology." The foundation
also operates several public calling stations in the province.
"For a long, long time, nobody wanted to put up a telephone
station here because there are only 15,000 people in Batanes
and only 9,000 are expected to call them," says Demy. "And
they won't call unless it is a matter of life or death."
"Nobody cared. It took IFDCI to approach these telephone
companies and convince them to provide us with the service,"
he says. "Eventually, they realized that the business will
thrive here." It was easier to convince other telephone firms
after Pilipino Telephone Corp. agreed to open a public calling
office in Basco in early 1997. Now, there are two PCOs in
Basco, and one each in the towns of Uyugan, Ivana and Mahatao
and in the islands of Itbayat and Sabtang.
Smart Communications, Inc. also launched Smart Link, its
fixed-satellite service, last December.
IFDCI's next projects include hooking up more offices and
islands to the Internet, develop an interactive Ivatan
newspaper on the Web, and putting up a radio and a television
station in Batanes.
Demy says IFDCI is partnering with the Manila Broadcasting
Company in setting up the radio station. He says it will also
conduct a feasibility study on the TV station.
"Everytime we bring in technology, we see to it that the
effect is positive," Demy says. "We want to help preserve
Ivatan culture through media."
"Batanes is a small place. It has a small population. Media
(such as cable TV) has a powerful influence," he remarks. "We
need an equally powerful tool to combat negative influences. I
think putting up a radio and a TV station can help us do