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The Philippines’ Revamps Free-Wi-Fi-for-All Programme

Image credit: www.gov.ph

The Philippines’ Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) is confident its current administration has now the capacity to fast track the roll-out of Free Wi-Fi sites under the revamped Free Wi-Fi for All Programme.

This statement came following a press briefing from the Presidential Spokesperson where he relayed the Palace’s position to relinquish subcontractors for the 2018 Pipol Konek Project. The UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) Pipol Konel Project was entered into during the early stages of the DICT when the Department still cannot procure and implement the project on its own.

The DICT has since built up its internal capacity, manpower and resources to increase its competence to implement projects on its own, said the DICT. These changes resulted in a 500% increase in the annual rollout rate of the now recalibrated Free Wi-Fi for All Programme which was able to activate more than 4,000 Free Wi-Fi sites in 2020 alone. In comparison, there were only a total of 3,251 sites activated between 2016 up to the end of 2019.

The DICT has already requested UNDP to return the funds given to its subcontractors so that the department can use these funds to bolster its implementation of the programme. The agreement between the DICT and UNDP was for the roll-out of the Pipol Konek Project only and is just a fraction of the department’s revamped Free WiFi for All Programme, which now encompasses all the department’s free Wi-Fi Internet initiatives.

At this rate, if the agency continues or even improve this pace, it can achieve its target to expand the provision of Internet connectivity and increase the number of live and operational sites to 67,233 by 2022.

To put things into perspective, as reported by OpenGov Asia, the country’s President, Rodrigo 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 the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), the Act mandates the government, including local government units (LGUs), to provide free internet access in government offices and public places. The measure, which 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 Act is expected to aid in the exchange of timely and important information during this crucial time.

To ensure the productivity of internet users riding on the free Wi-Fi access, the Act also sets the minimum internet speed per user under the National Broadband Plan, which should be at least two megabits per second (2 Mbps). DICT is the lead agency to oversee the effective and efficient implementation of the law.

As of March 30, 2021, the DICT has established 8,361 sites across the country, serving millions of Filipinos, including students, freelance workers, educators, medical front liners, uniformed personnel, and government employees.

Further 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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