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‘Digital deficit’ must be closed given shift to online platforms –Recto


The government must fund projects that will close the “huge digital deficit” in the Philippines as students and workers move to online platforms amid the coronavirus pandemic, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said Sunday.

Recto underscored that internet access is “now a major utility and a basic right” as telemedicine, e-commerce, online learning, and telecommuting activities are dependent on it.

“If the Philippines ranks 110th for fixed broadband speed, and 121st for mobile internet speed out of 139 countries surveyed, then this is for telcos and government regulators to jointly hurdle,” he said in a statement.

Recto noted that the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) is seeking P21.4 billion for the National Broadband Project and the Free Wi-Fi Project, which it hopes to implement in 2021 to speed up internet connectivity in the country.

“It is up to the Palace to initially endorse this. Bottom-line is that it should be ‘more byte for the buck’ kind of spending,” the senator said.

Citing a DICT report to the Senate, Recto said there were 3,832 government-installed WiFi spots as of April this year.

The DICT vowed to triple WiFi spots to 10,069 by the end of 2020.

“While this ramping up is commendable, it is still below the original target of 34,236, but I remain confident that given funding support, Secretary Honasan can erase the backlog he had inherited and be on track in installing 100,349 sites by 2026,” Recto said.

DepEd’s ‘urgent homework’

The senator added that the Department of Education (DepEd) has the “urgent homework” of equipping schools with more gadgets.

He said that the government’s free WiFi program has only been rolled out in 687 out of 47,025 DepEd-run schools and 233 state- and local government-run colleges.

“Pre-COVID-19, DepEd’s target was one e-classroom package per five sections of Senior High School. At present, its best estimate is to have in stock one laptop or tablet for every 30 learners, and one laptop for every four teachers,” Recto said.

The senator also urged the government to bring geographically-isolated and disadvantageous areas online.

“Kasama dito ‘yung 7,144 ‘last mile schools’ na tinukoy ng DepEd. Ito ‘yung mga eskwelahan sa malalayong lugar. The learners here belong to the disadvantaged side of the digital divide,” Recto said.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier vowed to “scrape the bottom of the barrel” to fund DepEd’s initiatives to reach learners amid the pandemic.

DepEd also previously announced that access to its online learning platforms was now free for Globe, TM, and PLDT-Smart subscribers. — DVM, GMA News

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