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Use of ABS-CBN frequencies for distance learning pushed

MANILA, Philippines —Another government takeover might be in store for ABS-CBN almost 50 years after dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law and shut down the press, including the network giant.

Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr. on Wednesday suggested that the government temporarily make use of ABS-CBN’s prized radio and TV frequencies to advance distance learning in public schools shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic.

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In House Resolution No. 1044, he proposed that government educators deliver their teaching modules on the signals vacated by ABS-CBN following the July 10 defeat of its bid for a new 25-year license in the House legislative franchises committee.

“Now, therefore, be it resolved… that the House of Representatives recommend the temporary use by the government of ABS-CBN’s former television and radio frequencies for distance learning, instruction, training, and other useful purposes to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on education in the Philippines,” part of the resolution read.

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While the resolution did not mention “takeover,” the Camarines Sur lawmaker’s proposal harkened back to the Marcos dictatorship when the government seized ABS-CBN’s broadcast facilities, which then housed three TV stations controlled by the regime.

Franchise expired

ABS-CBN was forced to shut down its radio and TV operations on May 5, a day after its franchise expired. The Lopez-owned media conglomerate had been hoping to secure a new license to resume its business and continue paying its 11,000 employees.

“The unused frequencies may also be used for information on COVID-19 prevention and control, risk reduction and preparedness,” said Villafuerte, one of the lawmakers who voted to reject the network’s franchise application.

The resolution did not indicate how long such an arrangement might take.

Neither did it suggest which entity should be awarded ABS-CBN’s frequencies, amid widespread speculations about certain businesses and religious groups that were interested in them.

Villafuerte’s proposal, while possible, will force the government to spend more amid the pandemic, said Pierre Galla, electronics engineer and cofounder at advocacy group Democracy.Net.PH.

“In the the broadcast sector, a specific frequency assignment is useless without a transmitter,” said Galla.

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He explained that transmission equipment needs to be tuned to a specific frequency.

Gov’t needs to spend, too

Once the National Telecommunications Commission recalls ABS-CBN’s frequencies and assigns it for this purpose, this also means the government will need to “spend for transmission antennas and their commissioning.”

“The proposal is sensible if the government had money to spend for new broadcast infrastructure. In the midst of the pandemic, it would be better to review all the angles of the proposal to see how likely it is that it can work,” he added.

The shutdown affected five AM and 18 FM radio stations, 42 analog and 10 digital television stations covering Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

In his resolution, Villafuerte said ABS-CBN’s “former TV and radio frequencies” could be used as a “means to provide alternative distance learning modalities to students this coming school year to help mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the country’s education system.”

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TAGS: 2020 school opening, ABS-CBN frequencies, coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus Philippines, COVID-19, distance learning
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