Twenty-five years ago to this day, the Philippines hooked up to the Internet for the first time.
“On Tuesday, March 29, 1994 at 10:18 A.M. at the University of San Carlos (USC), Talamban, Cebu, the Philippines was linked to the world via Internet. The occasion was the first International Email Conference organized by Dr. John D. Brule of Syracuse University and USC. A cheer went up at the plenary conference. Cebu was again the point of contact with the world as it was in 1521,” Dr. Rodolfo Villarica said during a speech at the Baguio Convention of the Philippine Institute of Chemical Engineers on February 17, 1995.
The late Jim Ayson, a local Internet pioneer, recounted the story of how Benjamin “Benjie” Tan, an engineer working for ComNet (a company that supplied Cisco routers), hooked up the Philippines to the Internet:
On March 28, 1994, Benjie Tan flew from Hong Kong to Manila, knowing that the hookup between PLDT and Sprint (the American telecom company) was scheduled to happen that evening. He went to the ComNet office but no one was there. However, he found a note from his boss, the late Willy Gan (who would later establish the first ISP MosCom) telling him to bring a Cisco 7000 router from the ComNet office and then install it at the PLDT office a few blocks away.
Tan called the Sprint office in Stockton, California, informing them of the router that will be installed and the Internet connection that will be established in about an hour. The time was 30 minutes before midnight.
After some difficulties, including transporting the expensive cabinet-size router worth $70,000 inside his car, Tan managed to bring the equipment to PLDT. He reassembled the Cisco router with the help of a friendly PLDT technician, plugged in all the cables, and powered on the machine.
He called Sprint again, telling them that the router is already in place. “Hold on,” a Sprint employee replied. “We’re going to open her up.” It was now 1:15 a.m. But it wasn’t until 10:18 a.m. that the Philnet team in Cebu were able to establish a live connection through the PLDT link.
While waiting for the Philnet crew to be connected, Tan posted this message to the Usenet group soc.culture.filipino:
“As of March 29, 1994 at 1:15 am Philippine time, unfortunately 2 days late due to slight technical difficulties, the Philippines was FINALLY connected to the Internet via SprintLink. The Philippine router, a Cisco 7000 router was attached via the services of PLDT and Sprint communications to SprintLink’s router at Stockton Ca. The gateway to the world for the Philippines will be via NASA Ames Research Center. For now, a 64K serial link is the information highway to the rest of the Internet world.”
25 Years Hence, and Onward
My first experience with the Internet was way back in 1998 when I was a high school senior at the University of Bohol. I was tasked with performing research for a science fair project, and since I was chummy with our principal, I managed to get access to the Internet at the university library. At that time, Internet access was limited to faculty at the university.
Since then, my fascination with the Internet was born. I recalled chatting with strangers using an IRC client, and I even put up my own simple webpage uploaded to a Geocities account. Google wasn’t yet the Google of today, so I used Yahoo, Altavista or our very own Yehey.com to search the web. I sent emails through Hotmail or Eudoramail. Listening to music involved downloading audio files and playing them on Winamp.
Through the years, I witnessed the rise and fall of many Internet innovations and startups. Friendster gave way to Facebook. Skype, WhatsApp and countless messaging apps rose from the ashes of IRC and AIM. At around the same time, smartphones supplanted fixed line telephones as the primary means of long-distance communication.
From simple messaging and browsing, the Internet gave rise to e-commerce and the sharing economy. It’s now as easy as ever to buy items online, book a hotel or flight, hail a taxi, or pay the bills. Netflix and other streaming sites have made it possible to watch TV shows and movies on demand. Information can be had with just a few clicks of the mouse or taps of the keyboard, thanks to Google and Wikipedia. And, of course, almost everyone is on Facebook.
While the Internet has certainly made life easier for people from all walks of life, it is also fraught with dangers and challenges. The ubiquity of social media has slowly compromised and eroded individual privacy, with Internet giants such as Facebook and Google involved in several controversies over their handling of personal data. Increased Internet usage has led to a rise in online fraud and other cybercrimes, costing companies and individuals billions of dollars in financial losses. Hate speech and fake news have become commonplace on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, despite their best efforts to eliminate them.
It would be fascinating to see what the future of the Internet would look like. The pioneers of the Internet certainly didn’t imagine that the Internet would be this big, and so important to modern society. Twenty-five years from now, the Internet would be an unimaginable landscape that few of us would have envisioned.