INFORMATION and communications technology (ICT) has been hailed by many governments around the world as the great enabler to achieve a higher degree of efficiency, better productivity, stronger transparency and improved government service to the people.
Politicians in a developing country such as the Philippines got the point.
The government has realized the importance of ICT in upgrading governance and public service, but not without advocacy from the private sector.
Since the 1990s, local ICT advocates have been pushing for the development of ICT-related initiatives not only to make the Philippines more competitive in the digital economy but also to improve government services to the citizens.
In response, the administration of President Duterte under the newly established Department of ICT (DICT) has launched on June 23 three projects the government expects would give birth to digital Filipinos.
ONE of the three projects formally launched on Friday was the so-called Pipol Konek.
Documents from the DICT described the project as providing free wireless-fidelity (Wi-Fi) Internet access in public places.
The first of its kind in South East Asia, Pipol Konek aims to raise digital literacy and citizen productivity through easy access to government online services, information and other online opportunities.
According to ICT Undersecretary for Special Concerns Eliseo Rio, there are 381 “live” project sites, and 904,588 devices had access to the free public Wi-Fi as of June 19.
The project will cover 1,634 total localities, including 13,024 public places, 1,489 municipalities and 145 cities with 18 points of presence across the Philippines.
Among the public places to be covered are 4,568 schools, 3,173 parks and plazas, 2,277 government hospitals, 677 libraries, 1,557 national government offices, 682 state universities and colleges and 90 seaports, airports and train depots.
Once the project has been fully implemented, the free Wi-Fi in public places will serve 105,000 concurrent users with 256 kilobytes per second (kbps) each, the minimum speed requirement of a broadband service.
TO ensure Filipinos and tourists will equally benefit from the project, users will be subjected to a three-level log-in scheme.
In the first level, the user will instantly enjoy a 50-Megabyte (Mb) daily data or 1 Gigabyte (Gb) monthly data without registration. Users at this level, however, would be required to have a machine ID or a media access control (MAC) address.
A MAC address of a computer is a unique identifier used as a network address for network technologies like Ethernet and Wi-Fi.
Users of second-level registration would have a 100-Mb daily data or 2-Gb monthly data after presenting a Philippine government ID or registering an e-mail account with the system.
In the case of a foreigner, a web-based registration system that would accept an image of an acceptable ID can be considered.
A username and password will be provided so the user can access the Internet on multiple devices.
Both level-1 and level-2 registered users would have their data limit reset at 12 noon the following day.
AT the third and highest level of registration for the free Wi-Fi connection, users would have full access to benefits of e-Government services by presenting their Citizen’s Digital ID.
Level-3 registered users can enjoy 300 Mb per day or 3-Gb monthly data. This, however, is not available to foreigners.
“We make sure that in all our free Wi-Fi access points, the citizens will more or less not pay for the speed,” Rio told the BusinessMirror.
Other limitations on the usage of free Internet were proposed, including restricting the services made through blacklisted websites and a multilevel registration for an equal Internet access.
“This service should not violate the privacy but, at the same time, we are still giving the access that is useful for the citizens. It is a balance of what content that our citizens get from our free Wi-fi,” Rio told the BusinessMirror. “There must be some limits of access, because if you get all the bandwidth, then the other people around you will not get the same service as you get.”
TO make the Pinoy Konek more relevant, the government will launch the free Wi-Fi access along the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) on July 12.
According to ICT Secretary Rodolfo A. Salalima, the Internet connection will cover the North Avenue to Taft Avenue stretch on or before the President’s State of the Nation Address on July 24. The stretch of Balintawak to the SM-TriNoma Mall would be covered on August.
The Internet connection is being provided by the government’s Juan Connect Network, which has a daily capacity of 100 megabytes per user (Mbpu).
Salalima said during the launch the 200-Mb to 300-Mb connection speed users experienced on July 12 would most likely fall as the number of commuters will rise mid-June.
Two private network providers would be giving 30-minute free Internet access for every commuter each day. Users would be charged for exceeding consumption. Furthermore, the access of each connected devices will reset at 12 noon.
IN line with the sustainability of service and consistent nationwide coverage, ICT Undersecretary for Developmental and Innovations Denis F. Villorente said the project needs the support of other government agencies.
“We are hopeful with the passage of the free Internet bill [since] it [would] provide the specific mandate to provide free Internet in public places and it also sets certain performed centrics,” Villorente told the BusinessMirror.
Senate Bill 1277, or the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act, has been approved by the bicameral committee on May 19 and is now awaiting Duterte’s signature.
Still, as the budget for the project increased from P339 million to P1.408 billion, the scope of the program has expanded, according to ICT Undersecretary Monchito Ibrahim.
Ibrahim said cities that were underdeveloped would be also included in the project by bringing investors in the area.
“It is all about bringing the jobs to where the talents are, and we are talking here of the countryside. We all know that 75 percent or even more of the annual graduates that we have are partly from places outside of Metro Manila.”
“However, 80 percent of the jobs are actually in Metro Manila. What we are trying to do to help develop the countryside cities is to make them more attractive to investors so that investments in those cities will bring jobs,” Ibrahim said.
National Government Portal
ANOTHER project rolled out expected to raise more digital Filipinos is the gov.ph, or the National Government Portal (NGP).
Documents from the DICT said the NGP will function “as a single website for all web-based government content to maximize efficiency and high-quality service for the citizens.”
According to Salalima, the NGP seeks to have happier and more satisfied citizens and other users of online services. Other objectives of the NGP are continued improvement in the Philippines’s international and e-government ranking and easier and more economical aggregation of resources and information.
Salalima added the NGP also aims for faster government transactions, processes and services through the use of online forms. The fourth objective of the NGP is increased efficiency of communications between and among the government, citizens and business users.
Salalima said he expects government operational expenses will decrease as there will be centralized management of the website.
He explained that through the NGP, state employees can work on a collaborative environment, allowing them to engage in data sharing. Salalima said this interaction is expected to streamline government processes and boost transparency in the bureaucracy.
Equally important, the portal will give the Philippine government a strong branding through a singular identity, he said.
For entrepreneurs, the former Ayala Corp. executive said the NGP would enable state employees to access information, online forms, applications and other government requirements for various forms of transactions.
To reduce red tape, the NGP is hosting the integrated government service center, enabling businesses to seek government assistance on several matters, Salalima said.
HAILED as the A-Z of government services, the NGP can also be harnessed to empower the citizens, according to Ibrahim.
He points out that the NGP can boost the development of smart cities in the country by providing educational material and content. Through the NGP, educational materials such as early childhood care, K to 12 basic education, vocational technical training and scholarships will now be available to the people for their advancement, Ibrahim added.
“With an educated work force, investors will come to the provinces to establish their businesses and people will not go to the urban areas for economic opportunities.”
The NGP can also be the venue for issuance of certificates, government identification cards and individual licenses. This would surely provide a great relief to millions of Filipinos who have to brave the scorching heat of the sun, horrendous traffic and fixers, Ibrahim said.
For people seeking job opportunities, a government portal can help Filipinos access the proper employment agencies, particularly for people seeking overseas employment, he added.
If the NGP becomes operational, many Filipinos are hoping that the days of the illegal recruiters would be numbered, Ibrahim said.
Of citizens, taxes
THE NGP seeks to provide tax and revenue information to enlighten the citizenry on tax matters, documents provided by the DICT said.
The NGP is also expected to be a platform to deliver information on health benefits, hospital finder, health centers finder, social programs and pension fund. It is also expected as a vehicle to promote tourism.
Being a disaster-prone country, the DICT envisions the NGP will be a source of data and information toward a proactive stance on disaster risk-reduction management. It will contain hotline numbers, maps and other valuable information, Ibrahim said.
The NGP will also be a source for the housing and shelter requirements of Filipinos. It will have a database on housing programs, property developers, buyers and other important data on housing.
Last but not the least, the NGP will have an assistance and complaints section to handle request for government assistance and complaints.
AT the end of the day, the government still needs to tackle the challenge of broadband access in the country.
Nevertheless, Villorente said the government is seeking ways to develop the country’s broadband capability.
He adds the government will undertake a feasibility study on how to reduce the cost of the development of the broadband infrastructure.
Meanwhile, the W3C Interest Group stated in one of its papers that pursuing the mobile route is a viable option for developing countries like the Philippines.
“For many constituents in developing countries, mobile delivery and retrieval are the only opportunity and method for access given the lack of needed telecommunications and networking infrastructures,” the W3C said. “The cost of access is also an issue since computers and connection points are still economically out of range for a majority of people around the world.”
National Broadband Plan
A year after its creation, the DICT formally launched the National Broadband Plan (NBP), allowing the enhancement of Internet access and the establishment of “infostructures” (information infrastructures) throughout the Philippines.
The NBP, which serves as “the blueprint in building infostructures for a digital nation”, is the platform enabler of the state’s e-government plan to have one digitized network for its online services to citizens, documents from the ICT said.
“[We need a] primary network from Luzon to Mindanao so that this can serve [the] government and singularly [the] people in the countryside,” Salalima said in his keynote speech during the launch of the department’s flagship projects on June 23. “[It is] because people in the countryside at times, most of them do not have access to telecommunications services.”
The NBP was developed to improve the overall Internet speed and its affordability, as well as to accelerate the deployment of fiber-optic cables and wireless technologies across the country, the DICT said.
WITH the help of the private sector, the government would invest in the NBP by establishing connectivity in various areas in the country, the DICT said.
This broadband project enables the NGP (gov.ph) to harness connectivity for better and effective use. Pipol Konek is also an important component of the broadband plan.
As an enabler for an affordable and faster Internet access, the NBP addresses three major broad strategies: (1) policy and regulatory reforms; (2) investment on broadband infrastructure; and (3) support on the stimulation of broadband demand.
The first strategy focuses on the establishment of policy and regulatory reforms, wherein the government shall include efforts in the reviews and amendments of relevant laws, policies and regulatory issuances.
Moreover, the government shall collaborate with the legislative body concerning the passage of any law or policy.
Through the investment on broadband infrastructure, the government shall develop a primary operating network that will create connectivity in government-owned facilities and areas in the countryside.
This network is the established Philippine Integrated Infostructure (PhII), wherein the government shall address the shortage in market capacity within the required time and shall avoid infostructure surplus during the implementation.
BY 2020, the PhII is expected to provide an average of 10 Mbps of Internet connection speed for households at an “affordable” broadband access cost.
“Our target is the threshold of less than 5 percent of household income for broadband services,” Villorente said. “By the end of the plan, we expect that 100 percent of government units will be connected to high-speed government broadband plan.”
The last strategy of the department sustains the government support to encourage broadband demand in the country. Necessary measures to increase broadband take-up rates shall also be established.
According to DICT documents, these actions focus on several involvements. One of these is local content development and promotion that will provide incentives to resident application developers and support to citizen-made engagement platforms. A second involvement is the conduct of capacity building and information outreach programs that shall inform citizens of the benefits of broadband in education, business, telecommuting, research, development and innovation activities. The third involvement is the introduction of incentives to broadband users that will establish an “access device” subsidy scheme for the said users.
“To implement the plan, the details of this plan [specifically] on the network need to be fleshed out through feasibility study so we can start to implement government investments on infostructures,” Villorente said.
Guide for advancement
THE NBP shall also work as a guide for the advancement of facilities for the ICT or infostructures. At this extent, competition in the telecommunications and ICT sector would be intensified and the project’s cost would be lowered for the citizens.
With the country’s GDP growth rate running from about 6 percent to 7 percent this year, Salalima said this rate is rising and would “digitize the country because digitization increases the GDP of the country.”
“Studies have shown that every 10-percent increase in broadband penetration boosts GDP by an average of 1.3 percent, and every 10-percent increase in mobile telephone density results in 0.7 percent [of] GDP,” Salalima said.
The final blueprint of the NBP defines broadband as high-speed access to the Internet. Under the broadband plan, “entry-level broadband connection to the Internet should have a minimum speed of 2 Mbps.”
However, the National Telecommunications Commission defines entry-level broadband as a data-connection speed of at least 256 Kbps.
GLOBAL broadband transmission capacity is at least 1.5 Mbps or 2 Mbps, according to the International Telecommunication Union-Telecommunications Standardized Sector (ITU-T).
The DICT said the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) has allowed the department to utilize the latter’s fiber-optic network facilities for the national broadband project.
“When we estimated it [the budget] earlier, it’s about P70 billion to P240 billion, but because we are now working with the NGCP, and we have existing fibers, that [the project’s cost] will be drastically reduced,” Villorente said.
With the broadband vision set by the NBP within the telecommunications and ICT industry in the coming years, the government shall have laid strategies to the realization of the outcomes on accelerated investment; mobilized and engaged public and private sectors; more places connected; and increased take-up rates.
“Advances in ICT, particularly in broadband technologies, have unlocked numerous socioeconomic opportunities for the Philippines,” Salalima said in the NBP’s final blueprint. “Given the socioeconomic benefits that broadband brings, I believe that it is imperative that investments in open, pervasive, inclusive, affordable and trusted information infrastructures or infostructures should be prioritized.”
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