Senators Ralph Recto and Sonny Angara have urged newly appointed Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) secretary Gregorio Honasan to fast-track the setting up of free Internet in public areas around the country, particularly in state universities and colleges (SUC).
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.
As of June 2019, only 2,677 sites have been made operational, out of the cumulative target of 34,236 sites by end of the year.
“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.”
Recto, however, said he is optimistic that Honasan will fix the bugs of the program and implement a catch up plan that will cover other areas of concern as well.
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.”
Angara, however, expressed confidence “that with Secretary Honasan at the helm of DICT, this program will be carried out with a greater sense of urgency.”
“At hindi lang siguro yung setting up ng free Wi-Fi ang pabilisin pero yung Internet speed na rin,” the senator said, noting that faster Internet remains to be attained in a country, which ironically has one of the highest social media subscription rates in the world.
Schools have been identified as priority sites for the implementation of the Nationwide Free Public Internet Access Program authorized under Republic Act 10929, of which Angara is a co-author.
Funding for the implementation of the program should not be a problem because annually, Congress has not been remiss in providing appropriations to implement the law.
The free public Wi-Fi project has a total budget of P1.7 billion for 2018, of which P326 million is for the installation of hotspots in SUCs, while the balance of P1.36 billion is for other public areas such as town halls, airports and other transportation terminals.
However, halfway into the year, DICT officials, upon questioning by senators, admitted that they had utilized a mere 10 percent of the P1.7 billion appropriated for 2018.
“Hindi ko alam kung ano na ang latest progress. But the election ban on certain types of government spending, the delay in the enactment of the national budget, plus the existing institutional weaknesses in project procurement have surely affected the implementation,” Angara said.
According to Angara, free Internet connectivity in SUCs can help students with their research, school assignments and projects.
With free Wi-Fi access, Angara said, devices such as laptops, tablets and smartphones can connect students to a wealth of text, audio and video content not found in textbooks.
“Kung libre ang Wi-Fi, malaki ang matitipid ng mga estudyante dahil hindi na nila kailangang gumastos sa mga computer shop o sa pagpapa-load para magkaroon ng Internet data,” Angara said.
He added: “This could also help students to keep in touch with their families and loved ones. Partikular na sa mga mag-aaral na ang mga magulang ay OFW o para sa mga nag-aaral sa Maynila habang ang kanilang pamilya ay nasa probinsya.”