The light and shade of the Cyber Corridor - Stanley Palisada

REGIONAL DRIFT | STANLEY PALISADA

Posted at Feb 11 2010 02:21 AM | Updated as of Feb 11 2010 10:21 AM

MANILA, Philippines- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo made a breezy island hop to look for signs of vibrant life in the Cyber Corridor which is to be her administration’s grand legacy to the Philippine economy.

The Cyber Corridor brings together the strength of key cities in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao in the field of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Business Processing and Outsourcing (BPO).

That strength according to Mrs. Arroyo, has raked in $ 7.3 billion for the Philippines in 2009--- livening up regional economies by stimulating business while providing half a million jobs in key cities and provinces such as Cebu, Pampanga, Iloilo, Bacolod and Davao since 2000.

Bursting at the seams with manpower

The president also toured schools in these areas to make sure future graduates are prepared for what she described as a “promising future in the ICT and BPO fields”. Jobs such as call center agents, medical transcriptionists, back office workers, software developers, design engineers, animators and gaming designers are supposed to be overflowing and awaiting the qualified.

Most of the cities in the Cyber Corridor are also the hubs of education of their respective regions. Schools such as John B. Lacson Colleges Foundation earned the praise from President Arroyo during her Cyber Corridor tour of Iloilo City. Its curriculum and academic programs compliment the burgeoning call centers and ICT businesses in the city.

In Metro Cebu, major colleges and universities continuously supply manpower to ICT/BPO businesses spawning at the Asiatown IT Park in Lahug, Cebu. The president envisions the Asiatown IT Park as major global outsourcing destination, placing Cebu on top of at least 50 preferred BPO sites all over the world.

RP on the way to first world nationhood

At the conclusion of her Cryber Corridor tour in Davao City, the president posed a challenge to India, that the Philippines is now ready to unseat it as the leading ICT/BPO country in the world. India currently earns about 9-billion dollars a year from ICT/BPO investments.

Arroyo attributes the gains of her Cyber Corridor program to the encouraging business environment and lower labor costs in the regions. It has been her administration’s strategy to spread ICT/BPO fruits outside Metro Manila, and stir up local economies.

In Bacolod City where ICT/BPO industries have provided about 7,000 new jobs, a notable growth was also seen in other business such as hotels, restaurants, and convenience stores catering to ICT/BPO employees. The president said the purchasing power of those employed in the ICT-BPO firms and their families have also received a much-needed boost.

Given all these PGMA envisions the Philippines as a nation on the verge of being a first world country two decades from now.

Cyber Corridor plunges into darkness

But as the president raves over the flourishing Cyber Corridor a power supply crisis looms. The very cities in the Cyber Corridor have been experiencing rotating brownouts caused by the temporary shutdown of major power plants for maintenance work.

In Mindanao, the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) has raised the “red alert state” effective February 10, 2010 citing zero contingency power reserves because of generation deficiencies by Hydro plants Agus and Pulangi. Rotating brownouts will be felt in Mindanao while the shortage will likely worsen as weather cycle El Nino dries up these hydro plants.

Despite its proximity to the nation’s capital the Cyber Corridor in Luzon is also beleaguered with a thinning power supply. Recently rotating brownouts and an impending power rate hike threatened not just households but businesses whose financials will be saddled with additional operating costs. ICT and BPO businesses may be particularly affected, being heavily dependent on a steady and abundant electricity supply.

In the Visayas where a power supply crisis is already chronic investments in the ICT sector may also ease. Visayas has the most expensive electricity rates in the country’s power grid as existing power plants cannot catch up with the rapidly booming Visayan cities.

BPOs want power cheap and steady

The Visayas power situation scores the need for the government to finally invest on new power infrastructure, seen as the only way to stabilize power supply and bring down power rates. This is the only way to make ICT/BPO companies stay and thrive.

According to Freedom from Debt Coalition Iloilo Spokesman Ted Aldwin Ong, unless facilities are upgraded and rates are brought down, the Visayas with its frequent brownouts and soaring electricity rates will be a big “turn off” to ICT/BPO industries.

“No BPO in its right mind will invest with the high cost of inefficient power service. For the Cyber Corridor project to take off, we need to look at power supply efficiency and cost” Ong said.