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Gov’t eyes inclusion of digital infrastructure in BBB program

The Duterte administration is looking into including the digital infrastructure project to its list of flagship programs under the Build, Build, Build initiative.

During a virtual press briefing, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) emphasized the need to leverage digital technologies under the new normal brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary and NEDA chief Karl Kendrick Chua said upgrading digital infrastructure is also a top priority of the government to adopt to the new normal.

Chua cited the National Broadband Program and the Free WiFi for All in Public Places and State Colleges and Universities program of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).

“Those [project] will have actually significant cost, which we are reviewing for inclusion in the infrastructure flagship program,” the NEDA chief said.

Citing results of the National ICT Household Survey, NEDA Undersecretary Rosemarie Edillion said 63.7% of barangays in the country do not have telecommunication towers in their areas.

The top three regions with the highest percentage of barangays without telecommunication towers are Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) at 87.2%, Region V at 84.2%, and Region VIII at 84.0%.

Meanwhile, 70.2% of barangays all over the country do not have fiber optic cables installed in their communities. The BARMM has the highest percentage at 99.1%, followed by Region II at 90.5% and MIMAROPA at 90.4%.

Also, 87.8% barangays said they do not have free WiFi in their communities.

The absence of free WiFi in all barangays is evident across all regions, according to Edillion.

To address the so-called “digital divide,” Chua said, “We need to open up the enabling environment so that there can be more investment in digital infrastructure.”

“That’s why we are pushing a number of both policy and regulatory reforms. For policy, it is [amendments] to Foreign Investment Act, Public Service Act, and Open Access in Data Transmission Act,” he said.

“These will ensure we have the most number of players and providers at the lowest possible price and they will invest as they can,” he added.

As for the inclusion of digital infrastructure projects in the Build, Build, Build program, the NEDA chief said various agencies have been meeting to review the flagship programs as well as the other infrastructure projects.

“We are guided basically by major factors. The first one, is the available fiscal space. This is more of a temporary constraint because the initial period during the quarantine we have to move some of the funds under the Bayanihan 1 powers to address the immediate need to provide the frontlines, the health care system, and low-income families the much needed support,” Chua said.

“What we have actually done is to review which projects are really ready and those are the ones that we are pushing,” he added.

Another indicator being looked into is the “maximum impact” to the economy and jobs.

“Because infrastructure, really is where you can get the most multiplier effect. As we review these projects, we are also looking for the list that are not yet ready to be implemented for instance they’re still undergoing feasibility study,” Chua said.

“Part of this review, is also looking at how many health, digital, water, sanitation and even housing projects that can be added,” he said.

“As we prepare the budget for 2021, we will be releasing very soon the updated list of infrastructure priority projects,” he added. —LDF, GMA News