The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) is spending another P1.2 billion in 2020 to put up new Wi-Fi hotspots that would provide Filipinos free Internet connectivity, according to Makati City representative Luis Campos Jr.
“The amount is on top of the P1.2 billion earmarked this year to build additional access points where Filipinos may freely connect to the Internet via their mobile devices,” Campos, House appropriations committee vice-chairperson, said.
In a report submitted to Congress, the DICT said it has so far installed password-free Wi-Fi hotspots “in 2,330 sites covering all 17 regions across 73 provinces in over 640 municipalities and cities” as of April 1, 2019.
The fresh funding for the Free Internet Wi-Fi Connectivity in Public Places Project is lodged in the DICT budget in the proposed P4.1-trillion General Appropriations Act for 2020, according to Campos.
“Money for the project is being sourced from the Free Public Internet Access Fund,” Campos said.
Managed by the DICT, the fund is being sustained by spectrum user fees collected by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), Campos said.
The DICT has been under fire from lawmakers who have criticized the slow roll-out of free Internet in public areas around the country, particularly in state universities and colleges (SUCs).
Sen. Ralph Recto said the program has been plagued by delays even if the government has appropriated almost P8 billion since the project’s inception in 2015.
“If this pace will not accelerate, the target of installing 100,349 sites by 2026 will be impossible to meet,” Recto said. “The free Wi-Fi hotspots project should not crawl like the present speed of Internet in the country.”
Sen. Sonny Angara, on the other hand, noted that out of the country’s 112 SUCs, only 17 have been installed free Wi-Fi hotspots as of December 2018, based on DICT data submitted to the Senate during the hearings for the 2019 national budget.
“That’s a low 15 percent accomplishment rate,” Angara lamented. “These institutions of higher learning are supposed to be priority areas in the roll-out plan but it appears that they have become last-mile targets.”
Meanwhile, Campos said he is batting for greater overall budgetary support to the three-year-old DICT.
“This early, we have to give the DICT all the funding it needs to immediately advance critical projects, including the National Government Portal, the National Government Data Center and the National Broadband Plan,” Campos said.