Sen. Ralph Recto, who has just won his reelection bid in the Senate, has hailed the creation of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) as a “revolutionary act” that will lay the groundwork for the country’s transformation into a full-pledged electronic republic.
“With the creation of this department, the government can now focus on promoting digital literacy, ICT expertise, and knowledge-building among citizens to better equip them in an evolving ICT age,” Recto said.
Recto is the principal sponsor of Senate Bill 2686 or the DICT Act of 2015, which President Aquino signed into law last Monday, May 23, as Republic Act No. 10844.
“I personally wish to thank President Aquino for affixing his signature on the Congress-approved bill. The passage of the measure is a huge step forward in this age of computers and Internet,” the senator said.
At the same time, Recto said presumptive President Rodrigo Duterte will have an entire department to crack the whip on telecommunication firms who fail to improve the speed of Internet download in the country.
“I fully support the incoming president’s plan to crack the whip on erring telcos. Hopefully, the newly-created DICT can live up to the task and serve as his loyal army that will win the war against inefficiency in the telecommunications sector,” said Recto, who is also the chairman of the Senate committee on Science and Technology.
Recto, who is also chairman of the Senate committee on Science and Technology, noted that one of DICT’s primary functions is to ensure the establishment of free Internet service in public places and schools.
“The DICT will establish a free Internet service that can be accessed in government offices and public areas using the most cost-effective telecommunications technology,” Recto said.
Among the powers and functions of the DICT is the “identification and prioritization of all e-government systems and applications” as provided for in the E-Government Masterplan and the Philippine Development Plan.
On the education front, Recto said the DICT will formulate policies and initiatives to develop and promote ICT in education, in coordination with the Department of Education (DepEd), Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
Recto said senators recognize information and communications technology as the third utility, after power and water.
“It is also the third biggest source of dollars after electronics and OFW remittances. It is a growth driver. Every 10 percentage points increase in broadband penetration is said to boost the GDP by 1 percent,” he said.
On the public sector side, Recto said a government which spends P3 trillion a year “needs a DICT to get more bang out of the buck, and prevent bribe from being squeezed out of the peso.”
“We are now living in the electronic republic, where views of the sovereign are advocated online, and services must be rendered to them on the same platform,” he said.
“Permits, licenses, land titles should now be electronically-applied for, processed and issued,” Recto said.
Recto noted that even before the DICT becomes operational, government has already laid the groundwork for free broadband Internet access in 12 regions beginning next month.
“I expect the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) to abide by their commitment. The government’s free Wi-Fi project must roll out and be operational next month in time for the opening of classes this school year,” said Recto, who sponsored the project’s funding in the 2015 and 2016 national budget.
“The President is leaving office next month. Let free public Wi-Fi be one of his parting gifts to the nation,” the senator added.
According to Recto, a report submitted to him by the Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO) of the DOST showed that the government’s free Wi-Fi project will commence rolling out in the provinces on the second quarter of the year.
The ICTO is one of the agencies to be incorporated into DICT, along with the National Computer Center (NCC), National Computer Institute (NCI), Telecommunications Office (TELOF), and National Telecommunications Training Institute (NTTI).
Also to be attached to DICT are the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), National Privacy Commission, and the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordination Center (CICC).
“For millions of Filipinos in the provinces, particularly the youth, this is Christmas in June. Hopefully, beginning next month, select areas in 12 regions will be the first to benefit from free public Wi-Fi,” said Recto.
“This is just the initial phase. We expect the DOST-ICTO, and later the DICT, to expand the coverage of free Wi-Fi to all regions in the coming months,” the senator added.
The ambitious undertaking, officially called the Free Wi-Fi Internet Access in Public Places Project, aims to provide free broadband Internet access to 1,462 Class 1-6 municipalities, and 44 key cities nationwide.
Under the original plan, no-charge Wi-Fi access will be set up in selected airports, hospitals, public schools, plazas, seaports, government offices and other public places.
“Our students, both in public and private schools, need not spend their precious pesos in Internet cafes for research purposes. Knowledge will be at their fingertips, for free 24/7,” Recto pointed out.
“Not only students will benefit greatly from this project. Transactions in government agencies will also be seamless and hopefully, hassle-free,” he added.
Under the sponsorship of Recto, the project was allocated a budget of P1.4 billion in 2015 and P1.65B this year.
Recto explained that the DICT is mandated by law to be the “primary planning, coordinating, implementing, regulating and administrative entity” of the Executive Department “that would develop the country’s ICT sector.”
“The creation of the DICT is necessary to have a dedicated premiere government agency devoted to developing and promoting a national ICT strategy,” the senator added.
Qualified employees of the DICT shall be covered by R.A. No. 8439 or the Magna Carta for Scientists, Engineers, Researchers and other S&T personnel in the government,
“May this serve as a warning to erring telcos. The incoming President will have, at his command, a new department that is duty-bound to protect the interest of the electronic republic,” Recto said.
Duterte earlier declared that he would open the country to foreign telecommunication firms that could provide better service if the existing telcos would not do something to improve Internet connection and access.
“I will make it a public policy — the Internet connectivity,” Duterte was quoted in a press conference held over the weekend.
The local download speed is eight times slower than the global average broadband download speed of 23.3 Mbps.
The Philippines has also earned the distinction of having the second-slowest Internet speed in Asia.
Among 22 countries in Asia, the Philippines has a download speed just a tad faster than that of bottom-dweller Afghanistan, according to Internet firm Ookla.
Despite the slow speed, Internet service in the Philippines is expensive, $18.19 per Mbps compared with the average of $5.21 across the globe.