Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) secretary Gregorio B. Honasan II claimed that connectivity in the Philippines has improved a lot since he assumed office a year ago.
To fulfill Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s marching orders for the DICT to improve connectivity in the country, Honasan recalled that a day after he took his oath he began the mass roll-out of free Internet access points in hospitals in the National Capital Region (NCR) through the revamped Free Wi-Fi for All Program.
In his first two weeks, he said the DICT provided free Wi-Fi to Quirino Memorial Medical Center (QMMC), V. Luna Medical Center, East Avenue Medical Center, and the Philippine Children’s Medical Center. This deployment was expanded to include other hospitals around the country, particularly in rural areas.
Complementing this initiative, he said the DICT further established free Internet hotspots in different regions in the Philippines by partnering with local government units (LGUs).
In September last year, the DICT and San Juan City collaborated in rolling out Internet hotspots with 400-mbps speed bandwidth in barangay and multi-purpose halls, basketball courts, barangay health centers, and public schools. San Juan City was the pilot city for the initiative.
In the ensuing months, the province of Zambales and the cities of Dagupan in Pangasinan and Angeles in Pampanga signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the DICT for the implementation of the Free Wi-Fi for All Program.
Honasan said he led the DICT in simultaneously reaching 17 regions with the program, launching 23 sites last October as part of his first 100 days in office. This was followed by the activation of 31 free Wi-Fi sites in the provinces of Albay, Isabela, Lanao Del Sur, Palawan, and the city of Davao last March 2020.
He said the DICT earlier provided free Internet access to 184 citizens of the remote island of Pag-asa in the Kalayaan Group of Islands. Some residents reportedly used the connection to look for alternative opportunities for livelihood, as well as for enhancing students’ learning and education.
As of July 1, 2020, 1,582 free Wi-Fi sites had gone live within first year as DICT secretary, according to Honasan. This is out of a total of 4,195 Free Wi-Fi live sites across the Philippines.
“The sites will contribute to the development of localities, particularly unserved and underserved local communities,” Honasan said. “Data is the new oil. Access to data has become a right, along with access to food, clothing, shelter, education, and health services. It will change the game, and it will change the lives of our people.”
As part of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID), the DICT said it has strengthened connectivity, cybersecurity, digital literacy, and ICT capacity programs to help the government mitigate the effects of the Covid-19 health crisis and assist the nation in its transition back to normalcy.
The agency said it has kept active its free Wi-Fi sites in more than 1,000 public hospitals, rural health units, and government offices, and installed new Free Wi-Fi hotspots in close to 60 Covid-19 quarantine and testing facilities and control centers across the country.
The free Internet hotspots in these areas, according to Honasan, can be accessed by the public for both information and entertainment. These can also be used by front-liners for information and data exchange.
The DICT has continued providing Wi-Fi sites in remote LGUs, recently providing 20 hotspots in Isabela and Lamitan, Basilan.
As a long-term measure to boost connectivity in the Philippines, the DICT said it issued Department Circular (DC) No. 008, s. 2020, which provides guidelines on Shared Passive Telecommunications Tower Infrastructure or the Common Tower Policy.
In a previous statement, Honasan said the finalization of the policy is a significant step in addressing the nation’s connectivity needs that have become more immediate because of the pandemic. He also said that the deployment of common towers, particularly in unserved and underserved areas, will improve not only Internet condition, but also socio-economic welfare through ICT.
The DICT also said it aims to reduce the shared tower permit requirements by up to 52 percent this year in compliance with Republic Act 11032 or the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018, which mandates streamlined procedures for government services.
To strengthen cybersecurity in public service delivery, the DICT said it has offered its Philippine National Public Key Infrastructure (PNPKI) services to government agencies, education institutions, and the general public. Under the current community quarantine period, the DICT has issued 1,137 digital certificates. It has also performed cybersecurity validation on applications used such as the Rapid Pass, ReliefAgad, and Stay Safe.
Last June, the agency said it issued guidelines for a systematic and standardized vetting and evaluation process for ICT services, products, or applications for government use in addressing Covid-19. The policy will ensure that current and future ICT services, products, and applications to be used by the government meet required standards while addressing potential concerns on data privacy, cybersecurity, and interoperability, among others.
As part of this campaign, the DICT, through its ICT Literacy and Capacity Development Bureau (ILCDB), Cybersecurity Bureau, and Regional Clusters, said it has conducted 46 training sessions and webinars for the first half of 2020, which were participated in by teachers, students, government and private employees, and the general public.
Among the topics discussed were ICT tools and solutions in transitioning to digital or virtual education, maximizing ICT at work, cybersecurity, digital literacy, and “technopreneurship.”
The DICT said Honasan was able to lead the implementation of various programs and initiatives to connect government, businesses, and citizens.
One of these is the Central Business Portal (CBP), an online platform aimed at eliminating bureaucratic red tape and streamlining business registration processes in the Philippines.
Launched last October 2019, the CBP was developed to reduce long queues for physical transactions, as the applications are done online and completed in five days.
Complementing the CBP, the first location for the National Business One-Stop Shop (NBOSS) was launched February 2020 at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC). It is a joint initiative of the DICT and the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA), in partnership with other social service agencies.
NBOSS is a physical co-location where applicants can register their business and employees, submit documents, and avail of online services. It hosts key agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), Social Security System (SSS), Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth), and the Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-IBIG).
The CBP is initially available at the NBOSS Outlet at the SEC Office in PICC. With CBP and NBOSS, business registration in the Philippines is expected to be completed in nine steps, within seven-and-a-half days—significantly less than the current estimate of 13 steps in 33 days.
The DICT also signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) last January linking government agencies under the Philippine Justice Sector. This is in relation to the National Justice Information System (NJIS), an ICT platform to address fragmentation in the justice system by developing information management systems and inter-agency exchange mechanisms.
Providing interconnectivity down to the government frontlines and LGUs, the DICT said it was able to connect 792 agencies to 13 government network sites, the most recent of which is in Zamboanga, where 56 national government agencies (NGAs), 12 LGU offices, six government-owned or controlled corporations (GOCCs), three state universities and colleges (SUCs), two public schools, and four Covid-19 facilities were provided with Internet connectivity through the GovNet Project.
According to Honasan, GovNet uses fiber optic technology to provide government offices with high speed broadband connection by connecting government agencies to a data center that is operational and secured 24/7.
“The use of fiber optics allows transfer of large amounts of data, which results in more responsive and transparent government online services,” he said. “With GovNet, the delivery of services is expected to become faster and more efficient as government agencies become interconnected, their functions integrated, and their operations interoperable.”
The DICT also revealed it has tested 158 dark fiber segments of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) for the National Broadband Program (NBP). The construction of the cable landing stations in Baler, Aurora and Poro Point, La Union was completed in 2019.
“This backbone shall cover the entire Philippines, complemented by undersea cables and ICT infrastructures across the country,” Honasan explained.