Former and current DICT officials wrangle over canceled free WiFi project


Posted at May 25 2021 05:28 PM | Updated as of May 26 2021 08:21 AM

Former and current DICT officials wrangle over canceled free WiFi project 1
People go online as they use a coin operated WiFi machine in Baseco, Manila on September 25, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATE) - A former and a current official of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) traded accusations during a House probe into the canceled contract for the department’s free WiFi project for remote areas. 

Earlier this month, Malacanang sought a refund of $21 million or about P1 billion from SpeedCast, the foreign contractor of the government's “Pipol Konek” free WiFi project over its slow pace. The palace said the contractor installed free WiFi at only about 10,000 out of 120,000 target sites. 

DICT said it has since taken over the task of providing free WiFi itself and has ramped out the rollout of sites by 500 percent. 

Former DICT Undersecretary Eliseo Rio meanwhile defended the earlier project, which the DICT did in partnership with the United Nations Development Program. He said the project was still on track before he left the department in May 2020.

Rio explained that the project aims to use satellite technology to connect 6,000 sites in remote vulnerable and off-grid communities in the country. The selected sites represent just 5 percent of the DICT target of 120,000 sites by 2022, he said.

He explained that the average cost for the total of 6,000 sites is P227,015 per site per year. In contrast, Rio said that the DICT’s new contract with Philcomsat for 250 sites in Luzon was P1.08 million per year, higher by P853,000 or 476 percent. Three other contracts for sites in other parts of the country also had similar higher costs, Rio said. 

“When DICT recently duplicated the DICT-UNDP Project by putting up 1,035 Free Wifi VSAT sites, using local service providers, Philcomsat among them, each sites cost the government almost five times more when compared to the P227,000 cost per site per year in the DICT-UNDP Project,” Rio told lawmakers. 

Rio said government does not need to install costly free wi-fi as the public does not need speed when availing of its service.

"Itong ating mga free wi-fi ito ay para ang citizens natin makapag-apply ng online government services, makapag-usap sa kanilang mga pamilya...and education," he told ABS-CBN's Teleradyo Wednesday.

(Our free wi-fi is for citizens to avail of online government services, talk to their family...and for education.)

"Di mo kailangan ng speed dyan... Anong relasyon ng speed sa public wi-fi. 'Di pumupunta ang tao sa public wi-fi para manood ng Netflix o mag-games."

(You don't need speed. What's the relation of speed to public wi-fi? People don't avail of public wi-fi to watch Netflix or play games.)

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DICT Undersecretary Manny Caintic meanwhile disputed Rio’s claims that their project was overpriced. Caintic explained that their project gave more value for money.

“The UNDP project, we noticed, had a maximum internet rate of 2 Mbps only and a committed internet rate of only 200 kilobits per second. In today’s time this is a very very slow internet speed,” he said.

Caintic maintained that their project now is ten times cheaper per Mbps.
“Hindi po totoo na overpriced. For the price of the internet we are providing now substantially mas maganda ang user experience ng mga tao,” he said.

Rio meanwhile said Caintic did not understand the satellite technology that was used in the project. 

“Usec. Caintic is not a telco man. He has no license in ECE [electronics and communications engineering]. He may not know VSAT [very small aperture terminal] is limited in speed you cannot put in so many megabits.”

Rio also questioned the award of P112,500,000 to Philcomsat for 250 sites, saying the company is a subcontractor in the DICT-UNDP Project and could have easily rolled-out these 250 sites at no cost to the government.

- Report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News


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