State Dept. exec says PH needs secure telco infrastructure, grants P118-million for 5G technology

A visiting senior US State Department official on Friday warned against engaging the services of telecommunications entities that may be involved in “malicious” cyber activities amid Washington’s continuing concerns over potential surveillance and espionage by Chinese tech firms.

“Filipinos can and should be secure online. Securing against malicious cyber activities is difficult even in the best of times, but it is infinitely more difficult when the risk comes from the entity that built and may maintain access to a telecommunications network,” said Daniel Kritenbrink, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

Kritenbrink, currently in Manila for a two-day bilateral strategic dialogue with Philippine officials which ended Friday, did not specifically name China, but US officials have repeatedly warned its allies and other countries against engaging the services of Chinese firm Huawei, which was banned in the US in 2019.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Kritenbrink announced that the US Trade and Development Agency is providing Philippine firm NOW Telecom Company, Inc. a $2.15-million grant to fund a feasibility study for the development of reliable and secure nationwide 5G mobile and broadband networks in the Philippines.

“The 5G grant demonstrates the US commitment to developing quality digital infrastructure and increasing access to affordable connectivity in the Philippines,” said Kritenbrink.

Under the grant, the feasibility study will provide NOW Telecom with the necessary analysis, designs, and plans for the phased implementation of the project, a US embassy statement said.

It will also include the establishment of a 5G pilot network at multiple sites in Metro Manila to validate network performance, test 5G use cases, and provide data to inform larger scale deployment.

In 2019, the Philippine government entered into a P20-billion contract with state-owned China International Telecommunication Construction Corporation (CITCC) for the “Safe Philippines” emergency response and monitoring system.

Huawei will provide the equipment, including CCTV cameras, which raised concerns from Philippine lawmakers that the system could be exploited by the Chinese government as Huawei would have access to sensitive information. Such allegations were denied by Beijing.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a visit to Manila in 2019, stated that “America may not be able to operate in certain environments if there is Huawei technology adjacent to that.”

The fresh 5G technology assistance from Washington, the US embassy said, is part of America’s digital policy in the Indo-Pacific, which aims to promote secure digital infrastructure in the region.–LDF, GMA Integrated News

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