DICT seeks more money for free wi-fi project
The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) asked lawmakers for more money for its national broadband program (NBP), citing its need amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the potential to save billions of pesos in internet expenses as it rolls out.
The NBP will be built in phases, with savings in the first year alone starting 2021 amounting to P720 million, DICT officials said during their budget deliberations before the Senate.
With the construction of subsequent phases and the expansion of facilities, cumulative savings will hit P34.25 billion by 2025, the department added.
But on Tuesday, Information and Communications Secretary Gregorio Honasan II said they needed additional funds to implement the NBP in a meaningful manner.
The DICT is seeking P18.18 billion for the NBP but funds earmarked amounted to just P902 million—a shortfall of P17.3 billion.
For the government’s free Wi-Fi program, the DICT needs P6.35 billion but earmarked funding is at P2.72 billion, leaving a gap of P3.62 billion.
Overall, the DICT is seeking a P46 billion budget for 2021 but was only earmarked P4 billion, Honasan said on Tuesday.
“We would like to appeal for any incremental increase in our budget so we can pursue our main programs,” Honasan said.
The first phase of the NBP includes the connection between the government’s cable landing station in Baler, Aurora, to National Grid Corporation of the Philippines’ node in San Fernando, La Union, using the Luzon Bypass Infrastructure.
Through the international submarine cable being built by global technology giants Facebook and Google that will use the Luzon Bypass, the government hopes to bring down internet costs to about P50 per Mbps (megabits per second) versus an estimated P350 per Mbps at present.
Should it secure the needed budget, the DICT expects Phase 1 of the NBP to start operations by 2021. It can also begin Phase 2 of the project to cover Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
During the hearing, DICT Assistant Secretary Emmanuel Rey Caintic added they have so far activated 5,046 free Wi-Fi sites serving more than five million unique users. He said the DICT expected to double this figure before the end of 2020.
By 2022, Caintic said the DICT was targeting a free Wi-Fi footprint of more than 27,000 sites across the country. INQ
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