Written by Anna Mae Lamentillo
It has been my dream to see the Philippines achieve its full potential. When I was with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the “Build, Build, Build” team during the Duterte administration, every road, bridge or similar project we completed was important for me because it meant more opportunities for Filipinos, better development for our country, and greater connectivity within and among our communities.
Today, I am happy to be back in public service and to continue working on the goal of connecting our communities and every Filipino, but this time on a different platform — through digital connectivity. It is high time that we fast track the improvement of our digital infrastructure. The world is evolving at a high speed and we must keep up.
I am grateful to President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. and to Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Secretary Ivan John Uy for their trust in me. It is my privilege to be of service to our nation once again.
The President has made it clear that he wants to ensure universal connectivity so that no citizen is left behind. The DICT’s top agenda is to deploy digital connectivity across our various islands. We will prioritize providing and improving internet connectivity in far-flung areas and in Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas (GIDAs).
Since the inception of the “Free Wi-Fi For All” project, a total of 4,469 live sites were established as of June 2022. This covers 75 provinces and Metro Manila, and 584 localities. Out of the 4,469 Free Wi-Fi sites, 36 sites are at the GIDAs. The target for 2023 is an increase of 4,972 Free Wi-Fi sites in public places.
Time for digital infrastructure
The National Broadband Program (NBP) is the blueprint for the deployment of broadband connectivity across the nation. Part of this is the National Fiber Backbone Phase 1 Project, which is already 73.56 percent completed as of June 30, 2022 and is scheduled to be finished by May 2023.
In 2020, the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) and the DICT have completed the construction of the International Cable Landing Stations in Baler, Aurora and San Fernando, La Union and the 250-km fiber conduit which will carry the two Tbps optical spectrum to DICT’s points of presence and BCDA’s ecozones. The BCDA handed over the keys of landing and repeater stations to DICT last November 2021.
Meanwhile, 1,000 government offices/agencies in 13 provinces, in 13 different regions, are now connected through the GovNet project, of which 981 are online and 86 additional offices/agencies will be activated by the 3rd-4th Quarter of 2022. In 2023, three Govnet sites will be established with 234 agencies to be connected.
Among other targets of the Department next year in terms of building digital infrastructure include the establishment and activation of National Fiber Backbone Phase 3; the establishment of Digital Infrastructure Center; and the establishment of Inter-island Network Connectivity (IRU Domestic Submarine Cable) that would provide inter-island network connection in Southern Luzon, Bicol, Visayas, and Mindanao.
In a bid to accelerate digital connectivity and improve digitalization efforts of the government, the DICT is welcoming new technology to reach GIDAs, areas of the country where laying fiber cables or establishing cell towers prove to be challenging.
For instance, through SpaceX’s satellite internet constellation, Starlink, which boasts speeds of up to 200 Mbps and latency as low as 20ms for residential use, we can provide connectivity in unserved and underserved areas.
Moreover, we will continue to collaborate with fellow governments to advance our digitalization efforts through exchange of knowledge, technical expertise, and best practices.
During the recent state visit to Singapore of President Marcos, the Philippines’ DICT and Singapore’s Ministry of Communications and Information, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on digital cooperation, including on digital connectivity, particularly in inter-operable systems and frameworks that enable electronic documentation; cybersecurity, such as organizing training courses and technical programs through the ASEAN-Singapore Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence (ASCCE) to develop and enhance skills related to cybersecurity; and digital government/e-governance, such as in the areas of digital government strategy, digital government services, and digital identity.
The MOU also covers exchange of knowledge, technical expertise, and best practices on measures relating to scam calls and scam short message services; on personal data protection; and in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, 5G, cloud computing, Internet of Things, big data, analytics and robotics; among others.
There will also be cooperation and exchange of knowledge to boost the digital innovation ecosystem, including connecting business owners with potential solution providers; exploring cooperation on digital capability and capacity building programs; and exchange of knowledge and best practices on digital infrastructure.
Aside from these programs, projects, and cooperation initiatives, we will continue to explore opportunities and partnerships that will help us in our goal of ensuring universal connectivity. The task may be daunting, but we will face the challenges head on because we can no longer afford to be left behind.