Press Release, November 21, 2014, Senate of the Philippines (16th Congress)

Senate OKs P3 B fund for free public WiFi
– Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph G. Recto

The Senate version of the 2015 national budget funds the setting up of free Wi-Fi spots all over the country so Internet access can aid learning, link farmers and traders to markets, and connect the public to information that will improve their lives.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said the Senate Finance committee has recommended to increase next year’s budget of the Department of Science and Technology’s (DOST) Public Wi-Fi Program from P338 million to P3 billion.

Recto, who chairs the Finance subcommittee in charge of the DOST, and who sponsored the amendment, said agency officials led by Secretary Mario Montejo “welcome, support and are pleased with the Senate initiative.”

Last Tuesday, Senate Finance committee chair Sen. Francis Escudero read the amendment on the floor.

The DOST has drawn up a list of 50,872 wifi spots from which the initial batch will be rolled out next year.

Included are 7,917 public high schools, 38,694 public elementary schools, 113 state colleges, 1,118 public libraries, public spaces in 1,490 towns.

In the blueprint drafted by the DOST, Wi-Fi connectivity will eventually be installed in 895 provincial, regional hospitals, and government-run medical centers in Metro Manila.

“The reason behind this is that if you’re a son of an OFW and you would like to Skype with your father who is in the Middle East because a member of the family has been stricken ill, then you can do it within the hospital premises,” Recto said.

“Or if the hospital staff would like to transmit patient data, then there’s a facility for that.”

Recto said the rationale behind the program is to tap it for social good. “So it’s the reason why it will be set up in libraries and schools so it can aid in research and instruction, and promote reading.”

The senator said Wi-Fi will also be set up in Public Employment Service Offices to help the jobless search for employment.

“It will also be set up in town halls. Kaya kung, halimbawa, ang isa ay malapit sa Municipal Agriculture Office, pwedeng gamitin ito upang alamin ang presyo ng gulay sa Maynila. Ito naman ang layunin talaga : to help real farms and not just to play Farmville.”

“Or kung nasa Civil Registrar’s office ka at may problema ka sa birth certificate mo, doon mismo pwede kang tumawag sa sino mang makakatulong sa ‘yo.”

Free Wi-Fi will also be installed in 85 airports, 41 seaports and 69 LRT, MRT and PNR stations, Recto said.

“DOT has declared 2015 as Visit Philippines Year. Not only that, we are expecting visitors ranging from the Pope to Putin. If we’re expecting millions more travelers, then among the convenience we can offer them is free Wi-Fi,” Recto said.

Pope Francis will visit the Philippines on the third week of January while Russian leader Vladimir Putin will join 20 other Pacific Rim leaders for the APEC Leaders’ Summit in November.

“Alam natin kung gaano kahalaga ang komunikasyon sa byahe. Kung nasa NAIA ka at na-delay ang flight mo ng tatlong oras, may paraan ka para maabisuhan ang sundo mo.”

“Or kung sakay ka ng isang tumirik na MRT, at may kailangan kang ipadalang dokumento, pwede mong gawin iyon kung may Wi-Fi signal sa loob ng bagon.”

“If our vehicular highways are congested, then we should tap the information highway and we can telecommute if the infra is there,” he said.

Recto said the Wi-Fi funding was a result of the Senate’s decision to defer by one year the lease-purchase by the DBM of laptops which will later be issued to selected government employees.

“I think it is the win-win situation. We set up the access points first. Kasi ngayon ang ang teachers, halimbawa, ay may mga smartphones na. Ang problema nila ay hindi sila maka-connect sa Internet. Then kung nakatayo na ito, we bring in the laptops.”

“Gusto rin kasi natin na palawakin ang laptop program ng DBM. Isang mungkahi dito sa Senado ay isama ang pulis para meron silang handheld device na kung may nahuli man na snatcher o pasaway na driver, pwedeng i-search na kaagad kung may previous record ang mga ito.”