WITH Congress approving double its 2021 budget as proposed by Malacañang, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) must ensure better and faster internet connectivity experience throughout the country, even in remote and inaccessible areas, Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara said yesterday.
Angara, chairman of the Senate committee on finance, said P1.9 billion was approved by Congress for the DICT’s National Broadband Program for next year. The original proposed appropriation, as submitted under the National Expenditure Program, was P902.194 million.
The amount, according to Angara, is on top of the DICT’s budget for the implementation of free Wifi in public places and in state universities and colleges (SUCs).
“We need to really ramp up our internet infrastructure. It’s one of the needs of our country.
When you talk about build, build, build, you don’t just look at roads, you don’t just look at buildings, but you also look at the actual internet infrastructure because that will provide greater investments. With bigger investments coming in to the country, this will mean higher paying jobs and more economic activity,” Angara said.
Aside from better connectivity, the senator said the cost of internet subscriptions should likewise go down.
DICT has assured senators during the budget hearings for the 2021 national budget that government will have access to cheaper and more reliable internet services that will reduce government spending on internet subscription once the first phase of the NBP is completed.
The agency had noted that government offices spend an average of P350 per Megabits per second (Mbps) of internet bandwidth a month.
For an average sized agency which requires a 100 Mbps shared internet connectivity across a whole building, the cost would be P35,000 per month, or P420,000 a year.
With the NBP, the DICT said the cost for the same agency would go down to P5,000 a month, or P60,000 a year.
The DICT expects the government to save P720 million in internet subscription expenses in the first year of implementation of the NBP.
For the free Wifi in public places, the budget of the DICT for this purpose was increased by P250 million, bringing up the total to P2.667 billion. Congress also increased the budget for the free Wifi in SUCs to P557.8 million.
Republic Act 10929 or the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act mandates the government to provide free internet access in government offices and public places.
However, in an interview on Friday last week, Sen. Panfilo Lacson casted doubt that the DICT program could improve services as he noted that the P1.9 billion approved by the bicameral panel that reconciled the differing versions of the House and Senate versions of the budget even cut the proposed higher budgets for the NBP.
He said the Senate introduced a P3-billion increase, while the house of Representative introduced P2 billion additional funds for the NBP but the proposal was turned down during the bicameral conference committee.
During the budget call, Lacson said the DICT was eyeing for an P18 billion budget for the NBP, but only P900 million was approved under the NEP. Lacson said a budget of P18 billion for the NBP will save the government P34 billion in five years since government agencies will be provided free internet connection by the DICT.
Lacson said that was the reason why the Senate and House introduced a total of P5 billion additional funds for the NBP since DICT said it can initially make do with a budget of P5.9 billion to lay out its NBP plan from Metro Manila to Davao.
Lacson said the P5-billion increase in the NBP budget was turned down apparently to fund more infrastructure projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways which got an increase in overall appropriations of more than P28.35 billion – from P666.7 billion under the NEP to P694.8 billion in the bicam report.