PH to ditch foreign contractor over slow rollout of free internet project

The government is considering scrapping a deal with a foreign contractor over its sluggish rollout of the free internet program in the country.

West Philippine Sea

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque admitted that the government was dismayed with the slow implementation of the free internet access project, adding the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) will instead take over the program.

The government aimed at giving the public free internet access in public spaces based on a law signed by President Duterte in 2017. Republic Act No. 10929, or the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act, covers government offices, public schools, government hospitals, public parks, airports, and transport terminals. The DICT was assigned as lead implementation agency of the law.

But so far Roque lamented that only 10,000 of the 120,000 target public sites have been given free internet access.

"Siyempre po hindi tayo happy. Kinakailangan ang pangako natin libreng WiFi sa lahat, dapat magkaroon pa rin iyan ng katuparan sa administrasyon ni Presidente Duterte and we have 1 year to go (Of course we are not happy. We must keep our promise to provide free WiFi for all under the administration of President Duterte and we have a one year to go)," Roque said during a televised press briefing Monday, May 3.

"With this latest controversy, ang posisyon po talaga ng Presidente at ng DICT ay itigil na iyong involvement nitong current contractor, na foreign contractor na ito at ibalik na iyong mga pera na naibayad na sa kanila dahil pupuwede na pong ipagpatuloy iyan ng ating DICT (With this latest controversy, the position of the President and the DICT is to stop the involvement of the current foreign contractor and retrieve the money given to them because the DICT can take over the project)," he said.

Roque said they had "high hopes" for the fast rollout of the free internet project given the involvement of multilateral agencies, but unfortunately its implementation was slow.

He also noted that the foreign contractor has been dragged into allegations of technical smuggling and bribery when it tried to import telecom equipment into the country. The matter, he said, is now being investigated by the DICT.

With more public areas in need of free internet access, Roque said the DICT must now work "double time" to carry out the program.

"Pero sa bilis naman po ng galaw ng DICT ngayon (With the fast action of the DICT today), we have confidence that we can meet at least close to the target if not a 110,000 more sites," he said.