DICT to seek UNDP aid to rollout free Wi-Fi nationwide

By Aerol John Pateña

August 27, 2018, 5:03 pm

MANILA -- The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) will seek the assistance of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to deliver free Internet service throughout the country through its free Wi-Fi program.

This developed as the DICT stressed that government should take the initiative in building the necessary infrastructure in communities that are not prioritized by telecommunication companies.

“We are seeking the help of the UNDP to bring in foreign companies and technology to set up a National Free Wi-Fi Network, to train our people and telcos on roll-outs done in other countries with very successful Free Wi-Fi programs,” DICT Acting Secretary Eliseo Rio Jr. said in a Facebook post Monday in reaction to concerns raised by various senators that the department has been slow in rolling out free Wi-Fi connection in state universities and colleges.

The DICT official said that telco giants PLDT Inc. and Globe Telecom do not have sufficient capability to provide Wi-Fi hotspots with sufficient bandwidth in public places at present.

“While the government has the funds to pay the subscription costs for say 50 megabits per second committed information rate bandwidth in SUCs and other public places, our telecommunication industry just can't deliver in many of these locations. Government must therefore invest in telecommunication infrastructure to pursue these programs and not merely depend on local commercial telcos,” according to Rio.

He explained that telcos prioritize putting up their communication facilities in areas that have strong subscriber demand to ensure profitability.

“Their business model has always been to roll-out their infrastructure to where they get the most paying subscribers. The Free Wi-Fi locations are mostly in public places that never were in their business plans to put Internet connectivity. So their connections were limited to places where they have already commercial point of presence but unfortunately reaches a very small percentage of where we want our Free Wi-Fi zones to be,” Rio said.

The national government is allocating PHP280 million to provide free Wi-Fi connectivity in 112 SUCs nationwide under the proposed PHP 3.757 trillion budget for 2019. Another PHP 1.16 billion has been earmarked for the installation of 10,800 free Wi-Fi hotspots across the country.

Among other initiatives being pursued by the DICT include its partnership with the Bases Conversion and Development Authority and Facebook for the construction of two cable landing stations for the Luzon Bypass Infrastructure; agreement with the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines and the National Transmission Corp. for the use of its dark fiber or spare optical fiber for the implementation of the National Broadband Network and signing of a memorandum of understanding with the National Electrification Administration for the use of infrastructures of electrical cooperatives to bring broadband connectivity in rural areas.

The DICT is likewise eyeing to award a third telco player that has the financial and technical capability to provide quality communication services across the country within the end of this year.

“With all these in place by 2019, and with the help of UNDP, we will be able to implement the Free Wi-Fi Law much faster and more efficiently,” according to the secretary.

To date, the DICT has installed around 1,592 free Wi-Fi sites across the country through opening its bidding to Internet service providers (ISPs) that are mostly serving remote areas.

The department targets to put up 6,881 sites by the end of 2018 through the help of ISPs and installation of more communication facilities by telcos.

The Senate had earlier questioned the DICT for its implementation of free Wi-Fi connectivity in SUCs nationwide.

Senator Sonny Angara, vice chairperson of the finance committee, urged the DICT to fast-track the implementation of the program and explain to the committee the causes of its delay.

"Ensuring free Internet connectivity in SUCs can help the students with their research, school assignments and projects," he said. The senator defended and sponsored the budget of the department for this year.

The Pipol Konek! Free Wi-Fi Project has a total budget of PHP1.7 billion for 2018, which includes PHP327 million for SUCs and PHP 1.36 billion for free Wi-Fi in public places. However, as of June this year, the DICT revealed that it has only utilized 10 percent of the budget for the project.

In a 2017 Commission on Audit report, the project achieved a "very low performance rate." (PNA)