Senators want increased DICT budget to improve internet connectivity

Published November 20, 2020, 2:37 PM

by Mario Casayuran

Senators today sought an increased budget for the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) after the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) rejected its proposed budget of P18 billion in2021 and instead gave it only P902 million, not an ideal sum to improve the country’s weak internet connections.

Nevertheless, the House of Representatives allocated P2 billion for DICT and another P3.265 billion from a Senate sub-committee report, Senator Panfilo M. Lacson said.

Senators Maria Josefa Imelda Marcos, Grace Poe and Pia Cayetano asked the Senate finance sub-committee chaired by Lacson to increase the DICT budget further for the construction of more cell towers throughout the country.

Lacson said the P18 billion would be enough for the operation of a national broadband program in one year.

He emphasized that he would push for the increased DICT budget in the Senate plenary debate and later during a Senate-Lower House bicameral conference committee meetings.

 Lacson said giving DICT a total of P46 billion would mean savings of P34 billion in internet subscriptions of national government in five years.

 An office of a senator spends P2 million a year for  internet subscription while the Senate secretariat spends P4 million a year, he added.

Another positive spill over of a government-funded, country-wide internet connection is that private telecommunications companies (telcos) could pay the government through subscription, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III and Poe pointed out.

‘’We are at the mercy of the private telcos,’’ Sotto said referring to the two telcos – Smart and Globe – whose internet speeds are below Southeast Asian standards.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon expressed hopes that former Senator Gregorio B. Honasan II, DICT secretary, could break the back of the bureaucracy into line.

Nevertheless, Drilon expressed hopes that the speed of the country’s internet service would improve next year.

It was Drilon who inserted a proviso in the Bayanihan 2 Act suspending for three years the submission of some 35 requirements for the issuance of one permit to install a cell tower except those required by building and aviation officials.  

During a recent Senate hearing, a former communist official testified that the National People’s Army (NPA), the armed component of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), collect yearly tens of millions of pesos as revolutionary tax from the country’s telcos so that their cell towers would not be damaged or destroyed.

Cost to install a cell tower is P15 million, Lacson said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto urged the DICT to first prioritize internet connections in the barangays to serve agriculture and the education sector.

Cayetano asked the DICT to coordinate with the Department of Education for the internet coverage of all schMarcos sought amendments to the Public Utilities Act that would increase the fine for violators from the current P200 a day to P10 million a day. Poe wanted it increased to P2 million a day.

She strongly suggested to Lacson that the unused funds for foreign-funded projects of agencies such as the Department of Transportation (DOTr) should be transferred to the DICT so that the archipelago could be provided stable internet coverage.