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Philippines government launches free internet initiatives

The central government and local government units are working to offer free internet access to help the public cope with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Internet access for education  

While the country prepares for a shift from the conventional face-to-face classes to a ‘blended’ learning modality in light of the health emergency, the government will provide free internet access in schools in support of the online distance learning.

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) is planning to put up more than 12,000 internet sites in public education institutions nationwide under the government’s Free Wi-Fi for All Program.

10,300 sites will be deployed in public schools. 1,804 sites will be deployed in state universities and colleges (SUCs) and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) institutions.

This is part of its commitment to the Department of Education (DepEd), Commission on Higher Education (CHED), and TESDA to ensure the education sector’s access to broadcast, connectivity and digital security this upcoming school year while the country is still under a state of public health emergency, an official said.

DICT has earmarked PH ₱7.7 billion (around US $155 million) on its proposed 2021 budget for the implementation of the Free Wi-Fi for All in Public Places and SUCs Program.

Earlier, DICT and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) announced the installation of free 186 WiFi zones all over the Davao de Oro province under the Free Wi-Fi for All project.

The Department’s target is to establish 23,100 lives sites by the end of 2021.

As part of the planned 23,100 sites, DICT targets to install: 5,644 sites in national and local government offices; 3,300 sites in government hospitals and rural health units; 1,505 sites in public parks, plazas and other open areas; 368 sites in public libraries; 179 sites in transport terminals.

As of 30 June, DICT said 4,248 live sites have been installed and are operational. More than 400 of these are installed in government hospitals and rural health units.

Free Internet Access in Public Places Act

The country’s President, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, signed the revised Republic Act 10929 in August 2017. Also known as the ‘Free Internet Access in Public Places Act’, the move aimed to accelerate the government’s efforts in enhancing internet accessibility for Filipinos.

According to a Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) post from earlier this week, the Act mandates the government, including local government units (LGUs), to provide free internet access in government offices and public places.

The measure, that now mandates both national and local governments, has been seen to bolster further economic, social, and educational opportunities, and bridge the digital divide, especially amid the current COVID-19 pandemic.

With more public areas slated to have enhanced internet connectivity, the move is expected to aid in the exchange of timely and important information during this crucial time.

To ensure the productivity by internet users riding on the free WiFi access, the Act also sets the minimum internet speed per user in accordance with the National Broadband Plan, which should be at least two megabits per second (2 Mbps).

DICT will be the lead agency to oversee the effective and efficient implementation of the law.

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