Thursday, February 4, 2016

DOST’s free wi-fi project to cover most of Bicol’s poor towns
By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, Feb. 3 (PNA) – The government's soon-to-be-rolled-out free wi-fi Internet access in public places project will cover most of Bicol’s poor and outlying municipalities, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) said.

This developed as the DOST’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Office’s has included in the project first- and second-class municipalities across the country so that the free wi-fi Internet access in public places will better reach the third to sixth-class municipalities that are in a dire need of such services.

DOST Regional Director Tomas Briñas on Wednesday here said that Bicol has about half of its 107 municipalities classified as first and second classes and the rest are from third to fifth classes, which means more areas in the region would be covered by the project.

A recent statement from the DOST central office said that domestic Internet connectivity to the 14 major cities placed under the project coverage to act as hubs has already been awarded to a joint venture between Innove and Yondu Inc. while connectivity to the international Internet was awarded to the Philippine Long Distance Co. (PLDT).

Connectivity to various municipalities, on the other hand, was awarded to We Are IT (Information Technology) or WIT, Converge ICT Solutions and Services and a joint venture between AZ Communications (AZ Com) and Omniprime Marketing Inc.

WIT is the leading satellite broadband company that provides vital satellite communications infrastructure for mission critical civil and military entities of the government.

It also gives emergency communications management response in times of disaster to all sectors of society and maintains connectivity to thousands of educational institutions in the country.

Converge is a Greece-based company that offers competitive services in the area of the Web, focusing on e-Commerce and any type of web development and Online marketing solutions aiming to improve a brand’s position in the digital era.

AZ Com, a local corporation, is a data communication provider that offers Internet services and data connectivity to small and medium enterprises and corporate customers while Omniprime is a Pasig City-based telephone service provider.

The system and management and access component of the free wi-fi project, which will oversee the nationwide network of access points and provide the hardware necessary, meanwhile, was awarded to Abratique and Associates Inc. which will be utilizing equipment of CISCO Systems Inc., a California-based IT company, to deliver connectivity to the end users, the DOST said.

In the statement, DOST Undersecretary Louis Casambre of the ICT Office said providers have been instructed to upgrade and expand their communications infrastructure in order to serve poorer and far-flung areas.

“Tenders are currently being prepared for the municipalities and with the new budget, the connectivity should be available soon,” said Casambre, as he revealed that PHP1.6 billion was added to the 2015 unobligated funds for the 2016 budget.

DOST Secretary Mario Montejo, in the same statement, expressed optimism that with the increased budget, industry will better participate in the program as “we are looking forward to providing connectivity through our private sector partners especially in the rural areas.”

With Internet connectivity readily available, their lives can be enhanced with better access to weather information, education, agricultural resources, commerce, e-government services, as well as employment, through online jobs, Montejo said.

The project, he explained, will install wireless Internet access points in public places such as, town plazas, parks, government offices, health units, and transport terminals -- including train stations, seaports, and airports.

The total number of beneficiary-municipalities stands at 1,435 of the country’s 1,490 and majority of Bicol’s 107 towns are expected to be in the list of coverage, according to Briñas.

This project, which is is directly in line with the “Internet For All” thrust identified in the Philippine Digital Strategy 2011-2016, aims to accelerate the government’s efforts in enhancing Internet accessibility for Filipinos to accelerate economic, social and educational opportunities and in reducing the growing Digital Divide under the overarching e-Filipino Program of the DOST ICT Office.

Once fully deployed, the project will serve 105,000 concurrent users with 256 kbps each, which is the lowest prevailing speed requirement for “broadband” service.

The concept of managed services shall be leveraged all throughout the project, not only ensure rapid rollout, a responsive service, allow economies, and other aggregation derived benefits, but also to create commercial opportunities for private sector participants that would redound to greater economic benefit through expanded services for all.

World Bank studies have shown that every 10-percent increase in broadband Internet penetrations translates to 1.38 percent increase in a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth.

The Philippines currently has a modest 52-percent Internet penetration rate, nearly doubled in the past four years from 27 percent in 2010.

The average connection speed is about 2.1 Mbps, with a little above eight percent of the users enjoying connection speeds faster than four Mbps.

According to the large telecommunication companies, about half of the 1,490 municipalities are connected using pre-Internet technologies that limit the services they can deliver, which includes broadband Internet.

When asked if these cannot be upgraded, the general reply is that the market would not support the necessary return on investment (ROI).

The deficit in the available services, however, prevents opportunities and benefits, including those from online public services, from reaching the people in those areas. (PNA) BNB/FGS/DOC/CBD