Philippines telcos sue church ISP for fraud

Telecommunication companies are poised to take the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to court for large scale...

Telecommunication companies are poised to take the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to court for large scale fraud following the failure of its Church-run Internet service provider, CBCPNet.

The 500m peso (£6.8m) class suit against the influential bishops' group is being brought by a group of CBCPNet suppliers and creditors, including the Philippine Communication Satellite Corporation (Philcomsat), Bayantel, and the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT).

CBCPNet closed down this year after only two years of operation, with losses reportedly running to 190m pesos. Local mailing lists were rife with stories of shady deals but these could not be substantiated.

Established in 2000 as an alternative to commercial ISPs, CBCPNet was supposed to serve as the Church's watchdog against online pornography, safeguarding children and other users by using filtering software.  The ISP employed monitoring personnel on 24-hour shifts to check new pornographic Web sites to update its lists.  It acquired satellite dishes from Philcomsat as well as a number of Hewlett-Packard servers and had also received around 200 ISDN and 80 leased lines from both Bayantel and the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT).

In an interview with Computerworld Philippines before CBCPNet closed down, Monsignor Pedro Quitorio III, assistant secretary general of the company, talked about the group's grand plans for the CBCPNet.

Quitorio said the CBCP planned to build a backbone for each of the country's 79 dioceses to expand the ISP's reach nationwide, provide Internet access to the poor and efficiently network its disaster response in calamity areas.

The group also wanted to load the ISP's servers with farming technology and information on livelihood projects that could be accessed by families in remote areas, said Quitorio. It planned to develop Internet cards, e-mail, Web hosting and Web designing services as well.

It also hoped to build 1,400 Internet centres nationwide via parishes and Catholic schools across the Phillipines as well as expand its network to unserved areas like Bicol, eastern Visayas and eastern Mindanao.

By April 2001 CBCPNet had entered into an agreement with Microsoft Philippines to roll out technology training and certification programs for the parishes and Catholic schools through implementations of Microsoft's software and volume licensing program for the ISP.

However the scale of the plans demanded substantial investment and after two years all funds had been spent.

Telecom companies accuse the CBCP of convincing its creditors and suppliers such as Philcomsat, Globe Telecoms, PLDT and Bayantel to put in 327m pesos worth of equipment and services to CBCPNet. The companies say that CBCP underwrote all deals with CBCPNet and is now refusing to honour them.

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