Despite underspending, DICT to get P6.8-billion budget for 2018

In spite of an earlier threat from lawmakers that they will slash the budget of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) because of underspending in previous years, Congress may yet grant the agency’s proposed budget for 2018.

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This is after the House of Representatives terminated on Thursday, Sept. 7, the plenary deliberation on the P6.8-billion budget that the DICT has put forward for next year.

In August, House Committee on Appropriations chair and Davao City representative Karlo Nograles castigated the DICT for the sluggish implementation of its projects in the last two years and threatened to cut its proposed budget to fund a law providing free college education in the country.

During the floor debates, House members found out that the DICT had P2.7 billion in unused appropriations in 2016 and P2.695 billion in the first months of 2017.

In the 2018 budget proposal, the DICT has allocated P1.7 billion to provide 5,308 public places with free Wi-Fi access and P1.2 billion for the National Broadband Program to connect to 30 percent of total municipalities, 30 percent of public schools, and 30 percent of rural health units.

Quezon representative Danilo Suarez lauded the agency’s plans but raised several questions, among them on how to improve the services of telecommunication companies.

Suarez said Smart Communications and Globe Telecom, the two major players in the industry, previously admitted in a hearing that it is not economically viable for them to expand in areas where the return of investment is low.

Oriental Mindoro representative Doy Leachon said one of the reasons for poor connectivity is the number of cell sites.

By comparison, Leachon said the Philippines has around 16,300 cell sites serving 130 million subscribers compared to the 70,000 cell sites of Vietnam which serve only 95 million subscribers.

“You can just imagine the challenge that we are facing to improve our signals,” said Leachon.

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