No Steve Jobs they, but this team got Filipinos on Internet


AFP file photo

It is every information technology (IT) geek’s dream to work on a project that will change the lives of millions. That dream came true for a group of Filipinos from the University of San Carlos in Talamban, Cebu, on March 29, 1994, at 10:18 a.m. when, through their efforts, the Philippines first logged on to the Internet.

“We’re in,” team member Jim Ayson, now senior manager for partner management at Smart Communications Inc., remembered blurting out.

Ayson and his then fellow Internet noobs (newbies) reunited recently at the Smart offices in Makati to look back on that technological turning point 18 years ago that changed the Philippine telecommunications industry.

The journey to cyberspace began as early as 1988 when Arnie del Rosario, head of Ateneo de Manila University’s Computer Center, did a comparative study for the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) on network technologies.

“In the running were infrastructures such as Timenet, Bitnet and, of course, the eventual victor that we now all know as the Internet,” he said.

The efforts didn’t really take off until four years later when the DOST finally expressed interest in the project.

With government approval assured, it was time to formally create a working committee. That was a task for Rodel Atanacio and Rommel Feria who had already gained fame maintaining the Bulletin Board System of the University of the Philippines in Diliman.

The group was known as Philnet Technical Committee, aka PhilNet Phase 1, and also included Del Rosario, Ateneo de Manila computer science instructor Richie Lozada, student Luis Sarmenta (who had written an anti-virus software), De La Salle University’s Kelsey Hartigan-Go and Joel Disini, now CEO of DotPH Inc.

Their task? To create an e-mail linkup between UP, Ateneo and Victoria University in Australia.

With government approval and funding, the project was a huge success. Students from the three universities could now send e-mail to each other. They then faced the next challenge: Keeping the system up and running, which required funding.

“I did the math and, given the funding from the DOST, we would only last for six months,” Del Rosario said.

That’s when Dr. Rudy Villarica, then head of the Industrial Research Foundation (IRF), came in to help secure additional funding from DOST. That ultimately earned him the title “Father of Philippine Internet.”

‘Just for nerds’

Villarica’s big assignment was to establish the country’s first live Internet connection or PhilNet Phase 2.

Villarica said it cost $11,000 a month to lease a 64kbps line at that time, a high price to pay considering that it could only connect to Victoria University in Australia and do basic tasks such as send e-mail and transfer files.

To make matters worse, the Internet didn’t seem to be financially and commercially viable then. Del Rosario was repeatedly told this, plus the fact that it was only for members of the academe and of research firms—“just for nerds.”

But as it happened, the demand for connectivity skyrocketed and big companies such as the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) began including Internet services in their portfolio.

Of course, the whole effort was far from being a walk in the park, as Benjie Tan, then working with Comnet Inc., recalled. Comnet Inc. was a local distributor of Cisco Systems which supplied and set up the Cisco 7000 router used for the project.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, the Internet is literally everywhere, thanks to the efforts of companies such as Smart, which helped make it accessible and affordable to Filipinos. It is hard to imagine any facet of professional or personal life that does not involve the World Wide Web.

Del Rosario agrees as he said that there was simply no way he and his teammates could have foreseen just how big the Internet would become.

“Back then, it was just for e-mail and file transfers—none of us could have pictured it the way it is today,” he said.

A lot has changed in 18 years. The Cisco 7000 router has since been destroyed in an unfortunate warehouse mishap, founding members have passed away, and memorabilia which could have served as proof of the team’s hard work have either been lost or misplaced.

Despite all that, their biggest legacy lives on to this day.

(The author is senior public affairs officer of Smart Communications Inc.-Ed.)

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  • RobertoMagtuytoy

    LEGACY of what?

  • Lila


  • Gevon

    Minsan ang PDI sadyang naglalagay ng headlines na misleading para lang basahin ang articles.  What a pity!

  • Ang Solution

    Comparing to Steve Jobs???? Too far fetched. Smart, better look at the mirror. Ads like these are too obvious, you certainly can do better than that.

    And besides, to give credit to those guys as fathers of Philippine Internet? No kidding???

  • arpee lazaro

    jim ayson is an online troll who’s into link baiting and everything Internetly immoral. Senseless article.

  • Jao Romero

    this is just a shameless PR that has no basis in facts.

    “Today, the Internet is literally everywhere, thanks to the efforts of companies such as Smart, which helped make it accessible and affordable to Filipinos.”

    Smart came in very, very late. internet already exploded before Smart even started offering internet services.

    the small ISPs were the ones that popularized the internet in the country. specifically those prepaid internet cards that allowed us to connect online using only our telephone lines. if credit is to be given, it is to those ISPs.

  • anony mous

    What a stupid headline! “No Steve Jobs they?”

  • Ulipur

    Source: ABS-CBN
    With Culture of Science, Filipinos can compete globally
    MANILA, Philippines – Filipino engineer Diosdado Banatao may not be familiar to many Filipinos but he is right up there with the who’s who of the computer technology industry, having helped revolutionize the way we see and use computers today.

    An innovator, Banatao is credited for devising a more efficient way to link computers, by simplifying the computer design with fewer chips, that has made computers smaller, more portable and more affordable.

    “I just thought I can redesign this with a few chips. Out of 150 or so, just five chips. That was the entire PC,” Banatao said on ANC “Headstart.”

    Today, Banatao notes, technological innovation has further reduced that to a single chip.

    His inventions are believed to make up 30% of every computer in the world today.

    His contributions to the modern computer industry include: the first single-chip, 16-bit microprocessor-based calculator thru his first company Mostron; the first 10-Mbit Ethernet CMOS Media Access Controller (MAC) and Physical Layer (PHY) Chip, the first system logic chip set for the PC-XT and the PC-AT.

    He is also behind the technology that sped up the computer graphics via the first Windows Graphics accelerator chip for the PC. The enhanced graphics adapter chips sets were eventually acquired by semiconductor giant, Intel.

    He also pioneered the local bus concept for PC.

    Thru his group’s efforts, the global-positioning system (GPS) device ordinarily used by the military has become more accessible to consumers.

    “They (the military) declassified it two years before we started SIRF so our goal was let to consumerize this and make it so affordable it can go into any electronic device. We were the first company that did that.”

    He noted that he, together with a group of other Filipinos, had the first patent on the technology.

    Banatao has hobnobbed with America’s computer technology elite in Silicon Valley.

    “I was a member (of the homegrown club)and Steve Jobbs, and other guys we were just playing around with computers. We were fooling around with computers, probably realizing we were able to hack enough complexity into a chip to make it a true computer.”

    Banatao credits his success to his humble beginnings, the premium his parents placed on quality education and his own passion for numbers and learning.

    Born to a rice farmer in a barrio called Malabhac in Iguig, Cagayan Valley on may 23, 1946, he used to walk to school barefoot .

    Schooled in Ateneo de Tuguegarao and at the Mapua Institute of Technology, he was a pilot trainee for Philippine Airlines (PAL) when Boeing pirated him as a design engineer and brought him to the United States where he pursued a masters degree at Stanford.

    While working with leading tech-companies for 10 years, he set on to do work that transformed the computer industry.

    Despite his achievements, he remains grounded, taking satisfaction in seeing people use his innovative ideas.

    “If you like to do something, at some point in time, you will be good at it, that’s what happened to me in the tech field. While I don’t do designs anymore, I still meddle in engineers designs, ask questions…”

    “There is nothing more satisfying for an engineer than to see what he has done. No money can equal that satisfaction.”

    Going by his own experience, Banatao says, aided by a culture of science, Filipinos can compete with the rest of the world.

    “Filipinos can compete in Silicon Valley in a big way.”

    “I was discovered by my parents and I applied myself, I’m sure there are millions of kids more talented that I was who are just waiting to be discovered.”

    “It is a global economy now and to participate in a global economy we have to have technologies and they can only be created by scientists and engineers. We are natural engineers and we are born to create.”

    Now a multi-millionaire, Banatao believes in investing in technology and in the Filipino talent.

    Together with the Philippine Development Foundation (PhilDev) which he chairs, he is on a mission to send 151 brilliant young Filipino minds to school, towards maximixing their potentials for the future of the country.

  • Horacio Cadiz

      I don’t remember Joel Disini ever being part of the Philnet
    Technical Committee.

  • Hannah Blake

    Ah!!! So this is what we are getting now out of their sterling accomplishments. Taking us a lifetime to load a webpage!? Paging PLDT/Smart!!! Ayusin naman ninyo service nyo! Ang bilis nyo magkaltas ng load o maningil pero palpak naman serbisyo ninyo!

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