Palace alarmed by slow roll out of P1.3-billion free Wi-Fi project

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Malacañang is alarmed by the “slow” implementation of the government’s P1.3-billion nationwide free Wi-Fi project.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said currently, only 10,000 sites out of the 120,000 sites across the country have achieved free internet access.

He said that it was “unacceptable” that only 10,000 sites have managed to acquire free Wi-Fi access since Republic Act (RA) 10929 or the “Free WiFi for All” program was signed in August 2017.

“From then until now, the slow implementation of this free Wi-Fi is really a bit alarming,” he said in a Palace press briefing on Monday in Filipino.

Roque said the national government is “unhappy” with the performance of the multinational contractor, Speedcast, which was hired by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to import telecom equipment for the free Wi-Fi project.

“As the primary author of the law, of course, we’re not happy. Our promise of free Wi-Fi for all should be accomplished in the administration of President Duterte and we have one year to go,” he said partly in Filipino.

He agreed with the decision of the Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT) to kick Speedcast out of the project, echoing the view of Speedcast’s local consignee, the semi-government Philippine Communication Satellite Corp. (Philcomsat) which exposed Speedcast’s technical smuggling and bribery deals discovered in July 2020.

“I think the position is that the DICT has already taken a step to return the extra payments given to that foreign contractor, pay them for the sites they have installed but now the DICT is even faster to install of free Wi-Fi sites,” he said in Filipino.

Amid controversies, Roque said the DICT is now competent enough to roll out the project.

“Now, DICT has such the ability to roll out and in fact, in the year 2020 alone, DICT was able to install 500 percent more Wi-Fi sites compared to the total installed by this foreign contractor from the year 2015 to 2019,” he said in Filipino.

He also backed plans of Congress to probe the Wi-Fi project, noting that it has been suffering from delays and now marred by a series of reports of smuggling, bribery, and allegations of negligence and incompetence.

“We support any further investigation to be conducted by the legislative branch of government as part of their oversight functions,” he said.

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