Orlando Oxales, Deputy Managing Director of the Stratbase Group and ICT Fellow of the Stratbase ADR Institute
Addressing the rollout delays of the nationwide free public Wi-Fi hotspots is on top of the priorities of recently confirmed Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Secretary Gregorio B. Honasan.
“We will first connect everybody to each other—government to governments, domestic to global, government to business, government to the citizens and everybody to each other. And we will do this in a faster, cheaper if not in a free manner and in a more secure manner,” Sec. Honasan said.
Critical will be the lighting up of the nationwide broadband infrastructure using the existing dark fiber network of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines and the completion of the Luzon Bypass linking the two submarine cable landing stations on the west and east coast of Luzon now being built in partnership with Facebook. This network will have the capacity to deliver fast internet connection to all government offices, public schools, government hospitals and public spaces down to the barangays.
As of May 2019, 662 municipalities in 73 provinces and 17 regions have free public WiFi sites under the Free Wi-Fi Internet Access in Public Places project. The DICT’s goal is to activate 10,000 sites nationwide.
“The marching orders of the President is to connect everybody to everybody, faster, cheaper and more secure,” said Honasan.
According to the Digital 2019 report by Hootsuite, Filipinos are the top internet users with an average time online of over 10 hours and are also the top social media users logging-on at an average of almost five hours a day, with Facebook as the preferred platform. In terms of using mobile devices the Philippines ranks second to Thailand with 72 million out of the 76 million internet users. These figures show that Filipinos have embraced the online technology and are ready to harness the strategic benefits of fast and reliable connectivity.
Days after Honasan assumed office, free WI-FI Access points were inaugurated in three public hospitals in Quezon City. He vowed to accelerate this effort all over the country. Though initially aimed at providing free mobile communications for patients, the potential impact of providing fast broadband connectivity to the whole public health system will make available e-health technologies that can change the way government delivers health services. Implementing the Universal Health Act will need new systems to ensure efficient front-line and administrative operations.
Investing in a robust and secure broadband network to serve all government requirements will result in multi-sectoral benefits that developed countries are able to leverage as an essential development asset. Delivering free WI-FI services to the unserved barangays and public schools will open profound opportunities and expand participation in an ICT enabled economy. Imagine our national and local governments totally retooled with cloud-based applications that would solve the operational inefficiencies and corruption prone bureaucratic layers that continues to waste billions of resources that we all must pay for thru our taxes.
Unlike the trillions of pesos needed to fund the hard infrastructure projects of Build, Build, Build, the free Wi-Fi project will only be a fraction of the cost, but the scope of coverage will be country-wide and targeted at areas where connectivity is most needed. As budget deliberations are ongoing, our legislators should make sure that the DICT will be ready with adequate financial resources to execute the marching orders of President Duterte to connect everybody to everybody.
Secretary Honasan sees the urgency in moving fast within the next 18 months, not just on priority projects, but also on institutionalizing policies that would go beyond the Duterte administration and to realize a complete digital transformation of the country.
“We hope to set in motion programs that even though whoever is the President, these programs will continue. That even though some officials try to meddle with it, it will be to their disadvantage,” he said.
“Our fellow Filipinos in many areas still cannot tap into the ICT due to the lack of resources and connectivity. This is slowing down our transformation or leapfrogging into a digital society. The challenge therefore for us now is how to change the narrative.”
We will have an opportunity to hear his policy directions during the upcoming Technology and Innovation Summit entitled, “Innovative Philippines: Transforming Barriers to Productivity, Transparency and Inclusive Growth” hosted by the Stratbase Group in partnership with the DICT Office of the Secretary. Thought leaders from government and industry leaders from the private sector will be discussing strategies to cope with fast-changing challenges in the spirit of harmonizing government and private sector goals by addressing policy barriers and maximizing existing technologies.
This article was originally published in Manila Standard.