Cabaero: Fathers of the internet

Nini Cabaero

NEWS on the death of Filipino engineer Benjamin “Benjie” Tan, who was the first to connect the Philippines to the internet, was met with messages of thanks for his pioneering work and of remembering about how it all started.

The journeying back to that time 25 years ago when the Philippines entered the internet world brought up names of individuals behind that momentous event and the other events that marked the growth of the internet.

The internet in the Philippines apparently had several fathers, perhaps some mothers too.

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) announced on its Facebook page the passing of Tan on Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019. It cited Tan for linking up the country’s first connection to the internet. Tan was credited for installing the router that allowed the Philippines to access the internet for the first time on March 29, 1994.

A few hours later that day, the first international email conference was held at the University of San Carlos (USC) in Talamban, Cebu City, to signify that the connection to the internet was live. That email link from the USC was also considered a first.

Dr. Rodolfo Villarica of ph.net was quoted in 1995 as saying that on Tuesday, March 29, 1994, at 10:18 a.m. at the USC in Talamban, “the Philippines was linked to the world via the internet.” It 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,” Villarica had said. This was according to Jim Ayson on his blog at jimayson.wordpress.com in 2011.

Where was Tan? He was asleep, grabbing much-needed rest after working several hours setting up the Philippine router to connect via PLDT and Sprint communications to SpritLink’s router at Stockton, California, Ayson wrote.

What was important was what Tan said in an interview made for the 25th anniversary of the internet in the Philippines in March 2019. A video of the interview was posted on the DICT page on Facebook.

Tan said in the interview: “Twenty-five years into it, I have not forgotten that hope that with internet access, someone out there, a student or whoever, could use what information is available to improve their lives. There’s got to be more to it than just posting pictures and selfies. I pretty much hope and pray that the net, for all the possibility that it provides a person, that it improves their life somehow, someway in a true, meaningful manner.”

With cyberattacks and “trollism,” Tan’s contribution is best remembered through the responsible use of the internet.

With 70 million out of the 106 million Philippine population already using the internet, it becomes imperative to bring the internet back to what it was envisioned to be by its initiators. It is for the internet to be a way for people to cooperate and communicate with one another and to use the information they get to improve lives.