By Hannah Torregoza
Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara on Tuesday urged newly appointed Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Secretary Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan to expedite the setting up of free Internet in the country’s state universities and colleges (SUCs).
Angara lamented that the government’s free Wi-Fi program has been plagued by delays.
In a data submitted by the DICT to the Senate during the hearings for the 2019 national budget.
It showed that only 17 out of the 112 SUCs in the country have been installed free Wi-Fi hotspots as of December, 2018.
“That’s a low 15-percent accomplishment rate.”
“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 lamented.
With former Senator Honasan at the helm of the DICT, Angara said he is confident the government’s free Wi-fi program would be carried out “with a greater sense of urgency.”
President Duterte announced Honasan’s official appointment during the Cabinet meeting in Malacañang Monday afternoon. He replaced DICT Acting Secretary Eliseo Rio Jr.
Angara said he is certain that the new DICT secretary will also prioritize ensuring faster Internet connection in the Philippines.
“Hindi lang siguro yung setting up ng free Wi-Fi ang pabilisin, pero yung Internet speed na rin (Apart from expediting the setting up of free Wi-Fi, Internet speed should also be addressed),” the lawmaker said.
Angara noted that faster Internet remains elusive in a country, which ironically has one of the highest social media subscription rates in the world.
Funding for the implementation of the Nationwide Free Public Internet Access Program authorized under Republic Act 10929, of which Angara is a co-author, should not be a problem because annually, Congress has not been remiss in providing appropriations to implement the law.
Angara said 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.
The remaining P1.36 billion is for other public areas such as town halls, airports and other transportation terminals.
But halfway into the year, DICT officials, upon questioning by senators, admitted that they had utilized only 10 percent of the P1.7 billion appropriated for 2018.
“Hindi ko alam kung ano na ang (I don’t know about the) 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.
Angara said free Internet connectivity in SUCs can help students with their research, school assignments and projects.
“With free Wi-Fi access, devices such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones can connect students to a wealth of text, audio and video content not found in textbooks,” he said.
“If Wi-Fi connection is free, our students will save a lot of money because they don’t have to spend a lot on computer shop or reloading just to get Internet data,” Angara said.
“This could also help students to keep in touch with their families and loved ones,” he added.
Angara also said students whose parents are overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) will also greatly benefit from the free Wi-Fi program.