Ex-DICT head flags 'overpriced, unnecessary' gov't Wi-Fi project

Published May 26, 2021, 3:47 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Former Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) acting chief Eliseo Rio has accused the agency of undertaking a P466.5-million internet connectivity project he described as “unnecessary” and “overpriced”.

Former Department of Information and Communications Technology undersecretary Eliseo Rio (YouTube/MANILA BULLETIN File Photo)

During House blue ribbon committee hearing on Tuesday, May 25, Rio questioned the DICT for its planned establishment of the 1,035 very small aperture terminals (VSAT) in the Philippines, when a similar project, also of the department, is already ongoing.

The former DICT undersectetary referred to the DICT’s partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2018 for the installation of 6,000 VSATs, as part of the implementation of the government’s free Wi-Fi program in public places. The project costs P1.36 billion.

Four companies were tapped in December, 2020 for the purchase of managed internet services, funds of which, according to Rio, came from the appropriation of the Bayanihan laws.

In a document, the DICT said the project aims “to provide a fully managed VSAT internet connectivity service” to geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Ang question, bakit hindi na lang nila pinabilisan ‘yong UNDP project kesa pumunta sa another procurement (The question is, why didn’t they just expedite the UNDP project instead of going into another procurement)?” Rio asked.

He also noted that one of the awardees for the latest VSAT project, the Philippines Communication Satellite Corporation (PhilComSat), had also been subcontracted for the UNDP project.

The Commission on Audit (COA) previously flagged the slow implementation of the UNDP project.

Only 882 have so far been installed of the 6,000 sites they aim to complete by 2022, said DICT Undersecretary Emmanuel Caintic.

Rio, who resigned from the DICT in May last year, attributed the delay on issues between the PhilComSat and the UNDP and its Australia-based contractor Speedcast, which he said could have been sorted out by the agency.

For the DICT’s managed services project, PhilComSat would install VSATs in 250 sites, at a cost of P112.5 million.

Rio also doubted that the project will be completed in five months, as stated in the agency’s purchase order.

“When compared with the DICT-UNDP Project, all awards are overpriced almost five times on the basis of cost per site,” he said.

He estimated the cost of the managed services project at P1.08 million per site per year. Meanwhile, under the UNDP project, each site only costs P227,000 per year, an amount he insisted is “lowest” in the world.

“The four VSAT Managed Services are unnecessary and a total waste of the…Bayanihan funds because the DICT-UNDP Project could have covered all 1,035 sites much faster and almost 25 percent cheaper,” Rio said.

“There is already a UNDP project that is you know, just, you let it move. Andiyan lang sa DICT ito, pinabayaan na lang nila sa UNDP (It was already with the DICT, they just left it with the UNDP), when they could have taken control of it kung nakikita nilang hindi gumagalaw (if they see that it is not moving). Bakit pinabayaan lang nila (Why did they abandon it)?” he pointed out.

In response, Caintic denied that there was overpricing in their procurement, pointing out that their latest project offers better internet speed than that of the UNDP project.

“The UNDP project, we noticed, had a maximum internet rate of two mbps only, and a committed internet rate of only about 200 kpbs, and in today’s time, this is a very, very slow internet speed,” the DICT official said.

“Ginandahan po natin yong ating serbisyo kasi marami po tayong natatanggap na comparative…complaints, kasi nowadays, we’re even asking our third telco to not go lower than 27 mbps (We improved better service because we have receiving comparative complaints, since nowadays, we’re even asking our third telco to not go lower than 27 mbps),” he explained.

“So hindi po totoo na overpriced (It’s not true that the project is overpiced), for the price of the internet that we are providing now, substantially, mas maganda ang magiging user experience (there will be better user experience)…It’s 10 times more cheaper, ‘yong ating per-bandwidth, per mbps (based on the bandwidth, mbps),” Caintic told the House panel.

The House blue ribbon committee will resume its inquiry on the issue on June 1.