By Hannah Torregoza
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto on Sunday (May 31) urged the government and telecommunication companies (telcos) to close the “digital deficit” in the country as society shifts to electronic activities, including online classes, e-commerce, e-governance, and other activities, under the “new normal.”
Considering the huge backlog in public information and communications technology (ICT) projects in the Philippines, Recto said it is time the government intensifies efforts on making broadband affordable and accessible and to use “connectivity to promote inclusivity.”
“The state of telemedicine, e-commerce, online learning, and telecommuting in this country will depend on the state of its internet,” Recto said in a statement. “Government spending on the above should be audacious, not austere.”
Recto said that based on a recent report submitted by the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) report to the Senate, there were 3,832 national government-installed Wi-Fi spots as of April this year. But the DICT vowed to triple this to 10,069 by the end of the year.
“While this ramping up is commendable, it is still below the original target of 34,236. But I remain confident that given funding support, Secretary (Gregorio) Honasan (II) can erase the backlog he had inherited and be on track in installing 100,349 sites by 2026,” Recto said.
The senator noted that the DICT is asking for P21.4 billion for two key projects — P13.54 for the National Broadband Project and P7.79 billion for the Free Wi-Fi Project — that they claim will speed up internet connectivity in the country in 2021.
“It is up to the Palace to initially endorse this. Bottomline is that it should be ‘more byte for the buck’ kind of spending,” Recto said.
Recto noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has made the computerization of Philippine public schools, colleges, and universities a very urgent homework for the Department of Education (DepEd).
“Pre-COVID 19, DepEd’s target was one e-classroom package per five sections of senior high school. At present, its best estimate is to have in stock one laptop or tablet for every 30 learners, and one laptop for every four teachers,” he said.
But Recto warned even “universal tablet ownership” would be subject to the limits of internet speed.
“If the Philippines ranks 110th for fixed broadband speed, and 121st for mobile internet speed out of 139 countries surveyed, then this is for telcos and government regulators to jointly hurdle,” Recto said.
“If our information highway will move at EDSA-like speed, malaking problema rin (it’s going to be a huge problem),” he stressed.
He also said the government should focus on bringing so-called GIDAs or “geographically-isolated and disadvantageous areas” to the digital world. This should include the 7,144 “last mile schools” or schools situated in far-flung areas.
“The learners here belong to the disadvantaged side of the digital divide,” Recto lamented.