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30 years ago, at 1:15AM, Benjie Tan connected the Philippines to the Internet

Today marks the 30th anniversary since Benjie Tan connected the Philippines to the world wide web. It is this time every year that I am drawn to an article written by a dear friend, Jim Ayson (may his soul rest in peace), who chronicled the evening before the Philippines went online. It involved a $70,000 Cisco router the size of a filing cabinet from by the DOST, a slow drive to the PLDT Ramon Cojuanco Building, and a celebration with pizza.

This piece has been lost in the ethers of the Internet, and Benjie Tan has also since passed away in 2019. Jim’s writing deserves to be read in full, so I would urge you to click on the link to his WordPress site (I have attached it below the excerpt) — I’m so glad it’s on WordPress free hosting because when Jim passed, he really had no one to pay for his website hosting so the fact that anyone can access this historic piece of Internet history is a boon. I shall quote a portion of it here, with a link to the full piece at the end, originally written by Jim for INQ7, the old website of The Philippine Daily Inquirer when it still had a partnership with GMA 7 online.

Unfortunately, there was no one in the office, but Benjie sees a note pinned on the wall, written by one of his staff. There’s a checklist of things to do from his boss Gan. He needs to bring over a Cisco 7000 router from the ComNet office and install it in PLDT. Now. There’s also a short apology from his staff. “Sorry sir, we can’t be here to help you because we went home already.” From here on, Benjie is totally on his own. It is now about 11:30 pm.

One of his instructions was to call up the Sprint people in Stockton, California to give them notice that the router would be in place soon and the Internet link would soon be ready to be activated. So Benjie makes the long distance call, introduces himself, and tells the Sprint guys to be ready in about an hour and a half.

There’s a problem though. The Cisco 7000 router needs to be transported. It’s about the size of a small filing cabinet and won’t fit in his car trunk. It’s also very expensive equipment, costing around $70,000 and paid for by Philippine taxpayers with a DOST grant, so one needs to be extra careful about this piece of hardware. Benjie goes for the “Humpty Dumpty” approach and proceeds to take it apart so it’ll fit in his car, with the intention of re-assembling it at PLDT.

“I knew it wouldn’t fit into the trunk,” he remembers. “So all I could do was try to lighten the load.”

He takes it apart, taking out the power supply, the boards and chassis, and brings down the hardware a few pieces at a time to his Toyota downstairs.

He manages to get all the parts in the back seat, but the chassis is so big it ends up in the trunk, with three-fourths of it sticking out. Benjie leaves the trunk open, starts the car, and heads off for the PLDT network center at the Ramon Cojuangco Building, a short drive away. Mindful of the $70,000 hardware he’s carrying, he drives at the snail’s pace of about 5 km/hour. “I knew the route well,” he recalls. “So I knew precisely which bumps and humps to avoid.”

When he drives up to the PLDT building, the guards on duty were naturally suspicious of this strange Toyota with the trunk open and all this metal hardware sticking out. Luckily Benjie has with him a letter explaining who he was and his assignment. They wave him through, and a PLDT tech guy arrives to assist Benjie.

They unload the Cisco router parts from the car and bring it downstairs to the network center. It’s the graveyard shift, and the center is virtually deserted. Benjie reassembles the router (unlike Humpty Dumpty, they managed to put it together again) and with the help of the PLDT tech guy, lifts the router up to the empty space on a rack on top of some modems. They plug in all the necessary cables and power it up.

By now it’s around 1 am, and an hour and a half has elapsed since Benjie left his office.

Read the rest of the story from Jim’s blog.

Here is a screenshot of the post he made, as told by Jim, to the Usenet groups soc.culture.filipino