FREE WI-FI. Officials of the Department of Information and Communications Technology and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) lead the simultaneous ceremonial activation of the 'Free Wifi for All' on Thursday (March 4) in Butig, Lanao del Sur. Local and military officials underscore the importance of internet connectivity in maintaining peace and order as well as in promoting the town's eco-tourism potentials. (Photo courtesy of the Philippine Information Agency)

ILIGAN CITY – The military has lauded the installation of free internet connection in the Lanao del Sur town of Butig, calling it an essential tool in promoting civil-military relations.

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), launched on Thursday the "Free Wifi For All" project through a ceremonial activation.

Lt. Col. Edgar Allan Villanueva, commander of the Army's 49th Infantry Battalion (IB) based in Butig, said the free internet connection acts as a vital link between the Army and the residents within its jurisdiction while enhancing its overall strategic communications objectives.

The Army unit was responsible for liberating Butig from the Islamic State-inspired group that tried to take over the town in 2016. It has since been stationed at the town's old municipal hall building in Barangay Poblacion.

"We have a signal booster but it is limited. The internet connection can heighten awareness among people--especially the youth-- about what is going on in the country, in the world," Villanueva said.

The Army official recalled that weak internet signal in the area had caused delays in terms of responding to public queries and concerns "as far as peace and order and security is concerned."

The "Free Wifi For All" project is mandated under Republic Act No. 10929 or the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act, and its unveiling in Butig was simultaneously launched in Palawan, Albay, Isabela, and Davao City.

DICT officials said the ceremonial activation was done via real-time live program synchronized via Skype from the DICT Central Office to the five areas--made possible through the Very Small Aperture Technology (VSAT).

VSAT is a two-way satellite ground station with a dish antenna generally used to reach remote locations due to its wide range as it can access satellites to transmit and receive data, DICT said.

Butig Mayor Dimnatang Pansar said the free WiFi project would be useful in promoting the town's tourism potentials as the municipality aims to be Lanao del Sur's eco-tourism capital.

Pansar said he hopes the internet connectivity would help the municipality become "a stronger and functional government unit."

"Communication is very vital to sustain the peace and order stability in our area, as well as for economic recovery," Pansar said.

Pansar said locals felt isolated in recent years following the security issues that hounded town, saying the DICT-UNDP project has brought hope "as it connected us to the world once more."

"We don't have to go to neighboring places just to submit or download our files; we already feel connected to the world because of this," the mayor added. (PNA)