Senator Grace Poe today made a strong push for an increased budget for the state-owned broadband network in a bid to improve the internet quality in the country and expand its coverage to benefit the citizenry.
At the Senate deliberations on the budget of the Department of Information Communications Technology (DICT), Poe backed the request of the agency to give it the full P18 billion it needs for the completion and rollout of the National Broadband Program, which would fill in a critical need in the face of increasing dependence on connectivity and internet service due to the pandemic.
“Sa panahon ngayon talagang isa sa pinaka-importante ay ang internet natin kasi marami sa mga kababayan natin ay nagtatrabaho sa bahay. Marami ring estudyante kung hindi lahat, nasa bahay din nag-aaral,” the chairperson of the committee on public services said in her interpellation. (During these times, the most important is internet because many of our countrymen work at home. Most of the students are at home studying.)
“Sana mas mabilis, sana mas mura at sana lahat meron. Sana all,” Poe added. (Hopefully it will be faster, cheaper and everybody will be connected.)
Poe said laying down crucial infrastructure for connectivity should not suffer budget cutbacks given its immense benefits to the people.
“Making internet readily accessible and affordable to all Filipinos means wider opening for information, service and opportunity that the internet holds,” she added.
Under the 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB), the DICT was allocated only P902 million for the broadband project. The House of Representatives’ version of the budget augmented it by P2 billion, while the Senate finance committee, in its report being discussed in plenary, added P3 billion more.
Poe lamented that the amounts still fall short of the P18 billion requirement for the full implementation of the project, emphasizing that the original allocation of less than P1 billion “almost did not recognize its significance.”
In questioning Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, chairman of a Senate finance sub-committee, it was explained that the broadband project would be able to cover the connectivity needs of the entire bureaucracy, including local government units (LGUs).
Communications among government offices using web-based applications could be done with ease and more efficiently and thus, would boost delivery of public service.
Government would save up to P34 billion in internet expenses by 2025 if Congress augments the budget for the broadband project, DICT earlier said.
“P34 billion ang matitipid natin, ang hinihingi lang nila (DICT) ay P18 billion, bawing-bawi na kaagad ‘yung hinihingi nilang funding kaya ibigay na natin,” Poe said. (We will save P34 billion. All they ask is P18 billion, this could be returned immediately if we give what DICT is asking.)
The lady lawmaker said having an efficient infrastructure for connectivity could mean additional revenues for the government.
“We cannot rely on telcos (telecommunications companies) alone. If we can actually get the telcos to use state infrastructure, that would mean extra income for the government,” Poe added.
Poe said having a reliable internet connection would also allow the full implementation of the law she authored –Republic Act (RA) 10929 that laid down a Free Public Internet Access Program.
The law establishes free internet access in public places, a measure touted by government as a boost to productivity, competitiveness and connectivity.
The law covers public places such as government offices, state universities and colleges, hospitals and health centers, parks and plazas, libraries, airports and seaports, transport terminals, among others.