January 19, 2021

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Rollout of free wi-fi services in the Philippines jumps 500% in 2020

The Philippines has recorded a stellar finish in 2020 characterized by a fast rollout of broadband infrastructure pursuant to initiatives of ramping up digital transformation in the country. 

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) in a statement said that it has put up 4,305 live broadband sites by the end of last year under its Free Wi-Fi for All Programme or the FW4A. This figure is a 500% jump when compared with data logged in during the past four years under the programme. 

According to its breakdown, the DICT said that it has set up more than 3,000 live sites in three years starting 2016. Currently, the total number of broadband sites launched is at 7,556 on the back of a surge of new sites put up last year.  

DICT Secretary Gregorio Honasan II emphasised that the good results under the FW4A project are in line with the government’s goals of boosting the Filipinos’ connection with the government and the world through internet services. Thus, the Department is moving quickly to expand its operations. He added: “[F]rom day one, we immediately went into analyzing factors that may speed-up the implementation and applied the needed reforms.” 

The DICT noted that the FW4A has been revalidated and redesigned so that procuring network components and transacting with suppliers for materials can be more seamless. By reinventing its existing platforms, the department said it was able to maximise its budget spending. It also noted that the availability of the 2019 national budget was extended until the end of 2020 due to the delays in passing the 2019 General Appropriation Act. 

“As a result, the DICT managed to utilize around 93.89% of its FW4A budget for 2019. The overall utilization rate of the Department’s total 2019 budget is now approximately 80% as of December 31, 2020,” the DICT added. 

The FW4A is a flagship programme under the DICT. This project aims to expand free internet access to public spaces, especially those located in regional areas. It tries to meet this goal through the installation of Wi-Fi sites in several key locations.  

This project was launched under Republic Act 10929 otherwise known as the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act. The Act, signed into law in 2015, provides that free internet services shall be made available in areas including national and local government offices, public education institutions, state universities and colleges, public hospitals and health centres, airports and public transport terminals. 

Maximum internet service shall be ensured in key places like computer laboratories and libraries within basic education facilities. Internet service shall likewise be maintained at its maximum in main lobbies of public buildings and offices. Free Wi-Fi signages were also provided under the Free Wi-Fi Act. 

Apart from the Free Wi-Fi project, the department stressed it is in the process of rehabilitating its facilities and equipment so that it can diversify into future undertakings. The DICT also mentioned that it is regularising the majority of people under its overall workforce. 

The DICT has been on the receiving end of massive support from the government as the latter aims to sustain its momentum in leveraging digital technology to boost operations. The government has announced in a recent report by OpenGov Asia that the 2021 budget allocation for the DICT has been increased. This unprecedented move is set to fast-track the implementation of the department’s National Broadband Project. Under this programme, the DICT undertakes to expand internet connectivity in the country, particularly in remote places.  

The Philippines’ overall budget for 2021 is PHP 4.5 trillion (US$ 93.6 billion). A total of PHP 1.9 billion (US$ 39.5 million) was allocated for the DICT.