Globe and PLDT are OK to host ‘secret’ poll data centers

That’s the operative word when Globe Telecoms and Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT) Wednesday agreed to host the main data centers for the transmission of results in the May 10 automated elections, officials said.

The decision was reached a day after the telco giants announced they were considering withdrawing their offers to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to set up the data centers in their main offices, fearing physical and technical attacks.

Where the centers would be located was not disclosed by Renato Garcia, a Comelec adviser, at a news briefing following talks with poll officials and Smartmatic-TIM, which will carry out the country’s first national electronic vote.

“We’ve already agreed on the area on the facilities that will be used and we are just working out the details on how to be able to have a Tier 3 data facility. These are their own facilities,” Garcia said.

He said that the data banks would not be set up in the main offices of Globe and PLDT as first proposed by the Comelec. But because of security issues, he declined where these would be located.

The two companies’ facilities at Clark that they had proposed as alternatives, however, were rejected.

Election tallies

The location of the data banks, which will have the copies of the election tallies, was the main issue on Tuesday at the joint congressional oversight committee on the automated elections.

Globe and PLDT had backed down on their offer of their facilities in Metro Manila to be used as data centers, saying they fear technical and security attacks on their systems. This delayed the signing of a contract between the carriers and the Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM on transmission of election returns.

Garcia said this and other issues were still under discussion.

If no agreement is forged between Smartmatic-TIM and the telecommunications companies in time for the elections, Comelec Chair Jose Melo said he could still force the carriers to agree.

Under the law and during the election period, the Comelec can deputize public utilities to do election activities in the interest of implementing fair and credible elections.

But Melo said the poll body preferred to come to an agreement.

Another thorny issue

Ramon Casiple, a member of the Comelec advisory council, said the other thorny issue between the phone firms and the poll body was the use of bandwidth, which Smartmatic-TIM had proposed. This will be open for two hours on May 10 to transmit results, he said.

The companies, he said, balked at this proposal because it would be a blow to their business.

The rates are still under negotiation, Casiple said, adding that it will be based on National Telecommunications Commission regulations.

With only 80 days to go before the elections, there are other transmission issues to be overcome.

Officials said that additional mobile telecommunications equipment would be ordered, aside from the Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN), to ensure that the transmission of votes from municipalities to the other servers and canvassing centers go smoothly.

The BGAN will be deployed in the polling places to transmit the results if the data are not sent using the first method, which is via cell phone connectivity.

Satellite transmitters

Juan Villa, Smartmatic-TIM chair, said the company had proposed that the Comelec buy very small aperture terminals (VSATs) for use in the municipal canvassing centers, citing unstable signal in the provinces.

VSATs, like the BGAN, use satellite connection to send data from one point to another. The equipment is used in sending credit card and broadband data.

Villa said that the additional equipment was necessary because only 75 percent of the country was covered by cell phone signal.

“We, like other bidders, were all working on the assumption that there was 90-percent coverage,” he said in an interview with the Inquirer, citing the requirements in the bid documents.

Villa noted that satellite transmission was the most reliable mode of transmitting the results from the counting centers to the other servers, as seen in the mock elections last month.

He said 1,000-1,500 VSATs were needed for all municipalities. Since the equipment is portable, it can be transported from one municipality to another.

GSM unreliable

In the tests conducted in several areas nationwide last month, it was revealed that sending the election results through GSM, which is used by the mobile phone companies, was unreliable even in urban centers.

In Taguig City and Pateros, for instance, the election data were not transmitted in the first try and the technicians had to replace the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) of the election machine before the results could be sent from the precincts to the canvassing centers using Global System for Mobile (GSM) communication system.

In Pateros, the GSM did not work and the technicians had to use the BGAN.

Also on Wednesday, Philippine National Police Director General Jesus Verzosa said that he had not received intelligence reports on possible attacks against Globe and PLDT but said that the companies should confer with the Comelec on their security concerns. With a report from Marlon Ramos

Source: Inquirer

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