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The Philippines’ DICT Continues to Upgrade its Free-Wi-Fi-For-All Programme

The need for adequate speed for the Free Wi-Fi deployed by the Philippines’ Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) was highlighted during the Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability hearing on the alleged irregularities and setbacks on the Free Wi-Fi Internet Access in Public Places or the 2018 UNDP Pipol Konek Project.

The DICT echoes the sentiments of the members of the House of Representatives (HOR): providing just free and adequate internet speed to the Filipino people is essential. That is why DICT continuously upgrades the Free Wi-Fi for All Programme, adapting to the present needs of the people.

For download speed, the DICT Undersecretary said the DICT-deployed Managed Internet Service-Very Small Aperture Technology (MIS VSAT), which provides a Maximum Internet Rate (MIR) of 25 megabits per seconds (Mbps) and a Committed Internet Rate (CIR) of 6 Mbps to geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas (GIDA).

In comparison, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-deployed VSATs under the 2018 DICT-UNDP Pipol Konek project provides a MIR of only 2 Mbps and a CIR of 0.2 Mbps. MIR is the fastest Internet speed while CIR is the minimum speed that people could access.

The cost of UNDP-deployed VSATs per location per month is around USD 398.13 for Phase 1 for 1 access point. DICT’s current MIS VSAT is USD 1,871.22 for 3 access points or about USD 623.74 per access point.  For less than double the price or 1.5 times higher, the DICT-deployed VSATs have internet speeds that are more than 10 times as compared to those deployed under the 2018 DICT-UNDP Pipol Konek project.

The DICT opted to deploy much higher Internet speeds for new GIDA sites because it would be responsive to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, with video conferencing applications being the go-to solution for communication with distant friends and family.  Most common applications require at least 2.0 Mbps or higher for single-window video conferencing, and anything less—like the connection speeds of UNDP-deployed sites—would be detrimental to the user’s experience.

The DICT added that the increased cost for the agency correlates to the increase in the bandwidth provided by the department. The price of the Internet that they are providing now is centred on users’ satisfaction.

Members of the HOR emphasised the need for free and quality Internet for the people, especially during the pandemic. One congressman stated that the education sector is one of the important benefactors of the Free Wi-Fi for All Programme. If the schools are connected, then many of the students can do their work and get connected, he said.

Meanwhile, another member of Congress stated that the implementation of the Free Wi-Fi Programme is a pressing concern.  Because of the pandemic, reliance on interconnectivity via Internet has been most important especially in the healthcare and education sectors. Reliable connectivity is vital in information dissemination in the age of COVID-19, he added.

Reports say that as the lockdowns restrict business operations and limit the movement of people in the Philippines, internet connectivity has never been more urgent to enable digital transformation as the country adapts to new landscapes brought about by the pandemic. In times of crisis such as COVID-19, the telecom industry plays an important role in ensuring business continuity and household sustainability as a dependency for reliable broadband connectivity becomes more critical. The report added that Internet connectivity will serve as one of the main foundations in supporting the overall digital infrastructure development in the Philippines.

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