Press Release
May 31, 2020

Closing 'digital deficit' key to online classes, e-governance, telemedicine

As society shifts to electronic transactions, government should adequately fund projects that will close the huge "digital deficit", make broadband "affordable and accessible", and use "connectivity to promote inclusivity."

This was the call of Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto who said that in a country where activities "are now preceded with words like 'online' or 'tele-', internet is now a major utility and a basic right."

Recto said the state of telemedicine, e-commerce, online learning and telecommuting in this country will depend on the state of its internet.

He said government spending on the above should be "audacious, not austere, considering the huge backlog in public ICT projects."

Recto cited the number of schools where the government's free Wi-Fi program has been rolled out--687 out of 47,025 DepEd-run schools and 233 state- and local government-run colleges--as an example of the work to be done.

Of the thousands needed, only 775 of these free Wi-Fi hotspots are up and running in government hospitals and health centers, Recto added.

Out of the thousands of seaports, bus terminals, rail terminals and airports nationwide, only 60 of them host active sites, Recto said.

According to a recent DICT report to the Senate, there were 3,832 national government-installed Wi-Fi spots as of April this year, but the agency vowed to triple this to 10,069 by the end of the year.

"While this ramping up is commendable, it is still below the original target of 34,236, but I remain confident that given funding support, Secretary Honasan can erase the backlog he had inherited and be on track in installing 100,349 sites by 2026," Recto said.

Recto said the pandemic has also made the computerization of our schools "a very urgent homework for DepEd."

"Pre-COVID 19, DepEd's target was 1 e-classroom package per 5 sections of Senior High School. At present, its best estimate is to have in stock 1 laptop or tablet for every 30 learners, and 1 laptop for every 4 teachers," he said.

But Recto said even "universal tablet ownership" will be subject to the limits of internet speed.

"If the Philippines ranks 110th for fixed broadband speed, and 121st for mobile internet speed out of 139 countries surveyed, then this is for telcos and government regulators to jointly hurdle," Recto said.

"If our information highway will move at EDSA-like speed, malaking problema rin," he said.

Aside from backing private sector policy and infrastructure initiatives that will make internet "fast, reliable and fairly-priced," government should focus on bringing so-called GIDAs or "geographically-isolated and disadvantageous areas" to the digital world.

"Kasama dito yung 7,144 "last mile schools" na tinukoy ng DepEd. Ito yung mga eskwelahan sa malalayong lugar. The learners here belong to the disadvantaged side of the digital divide," Recto said.

Recto said the DICT is asking for P21.4 billion for two key projects--P13.54 for the National Broadband Project and P7.79 billion for the Free Wi-Fi Project--it plans to implement in 2021 and which it claims will help "speed up internet connectivity" in the country.

"It is up to the Palace to initially endorse this. Bottomline is that it should be 'more byte for the buck' kind of spending," Recto said.

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