10K machines need satellite links

10K machines need satellite links
By Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Nearly 4,700 polling centers in the country with some 10,000 voting machines will have to use a satellite connection to transmit tallies because they have no mobile-network coverage, said a document from the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

These areas have about 5 million registered voters.

A master list of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines obtained by the Philippine Daily Inquirer shows that 4,690 polling centers have no cell phone signal from telecommunication firms Globe Telecom, Smart Communications and Sun Cellular.

The rest of the precincts in the country are covered by one or two of the telecommunication networks, the list said.

The affected polling centers have about 10,000 PCOS machines, accounting for 13 percent of the 76,300 total voting machines to be used on Election Day on May 10.

Due to the lack of cell phone signals in these localities, the precincts have been allocated Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) equipment so they can transmit the results via satellite.

A total of 5,600 BGAN equipment and 680 Very Small Aperture Terminals have been assigned to the areas where cell phone signal is unreliable.

Precincts with two or more voting machines will have to share one BGAN unit.

The precincts with unreliable signal are mostly in rural areas, according to the list.

Cavite, Davao City

There are precincts in areas in Cavite province such as Imus, Bacoor and Cavite City that will use satellite transmission.

Davao City will also send election tallies via satellite.

At Ladislaw Diwa Elementary School in Cavite City, the 22 PCOS machines will have to use a BGAN unit to transmit the results. A school in Davao City that has 24 PCOS machines will share one BGAN equipment.

Abra, Maguindanao, Sulu

The provinces of Abra, Maguindanao, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, Lanao del Sur and Sulu have a significant number of precincts with no reliable network signal, according to the document.

Cesar Flores, spokesperson of Smartmatic-TIM Corp., which provides the voting machines, said these areas accounted for about 10 percent of the country’s 50.7 million registered voters.

The Comelec has leased 82,200 PCOS machines from Smartmatic-TIM for the country’s first computerized balloting, which promises faster and more accurate results. Of that number, around 76,300 are deployed to clustered precincts, while the rest will be used as replacement machines.

The PCOS machines are capable of transmitting the results from the precinct to the canvassing center servers via GPRS or general packet radio system, the connection used by mobile networks.

However, a Smartmatic-TIM survey of the telecommunication firms’ capability has found that a third of the country has zero or weak mobile network signal, compelling the company to use satellite transmission in these areas.

Guard against fraud

Bantay Eleksyon convenor Ramon Casiple urged election stakeholders to monitor the areas with transmission difficulties and security issues, saying poll fraud is likely to happen in these provinces.

“These are the places that we are monitoring,” he said.

Casiple said areas with no or weak network signal were likely to go manual on Election Day.

Election cheats and operators could exploit the manual count to favor certain candidates, he said.

Casiple suggested that these areas be monitored carefully because they accounted for a chunk of the voting population, which he placed at 10 to 15 percent.

Impact on presidential race

The number, he said, “will have a significant impact” on the outcome of the national races, especially the presidential contest.

Casiple said the Comelec list was conservative as it only accounted for areas with no cell phone signal.

“It does not have those areas with unstable signals. Those that are not yet fixed by the telcos,” he said.

Karen Ang

A plebeian who is trying to make small changes in this world.