SENATOR Miriam Santiago on Friday called on her colleagues to look first into the status of the P3-billion nationwide free Wi-Fi project of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) before granting the proposed additional funding for the project.
Santiago was referring to the additional P1.6 billion funding the DOST is asking Congress for the continuation of the Free Internet Connectivity in Public Places program, which seeks to establish internet hotspots in 7,917 public high schools, 38,694 public elementary schools, 113 state colleges, 1,118 public libraries, public spaces in 1,490 towns.
Congress, through the initiative of Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, allotted P1.4 billion in 2015 for the DOST to start the program.
The nationwide free Wi-Fi project costs P3 billion and the DOST vowed to complete the program by the end of 2016.
Santiago wants the Senate to make sure the free Internet program is on track and that funds allotted for the project are utilized properly.
The feisty Senator made the call after following the report of the Commission on Audit (COA) about the underspending committed by DOST in 2014.
Santiago, author of the Magna Carta for Internet Freedom, is also planning to file a resolution asking the proper senate committee to conduct an inquiry into the P827.6 million underspending in 2014 by the Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO) of the DOST.
According to COA, the bulk of the unused funds were earmarked for the Integrated Government Philippines (iGovPhil) Project, which would have set up a shared network among offices delivering common services, and the Philippines Community eCenter (CeC) Program.
“Government efforts to pursue ICT projects are laudable. We cannot lag behind other countries on that front. But before the government can even dream of implementing big-ticket projects, it must improve the capacity of responsible agencies,” Santiago said in a statement.
Santiago pointed out that the DOST is asking for the additional funding on the P3-billion project when it failed to implement several projects in 2014 worth less than a million.
“Of course Internet-loving Filipinos want free Wi-Fi, but can the DOST deliver on its promises?” the senator asked.
For this year, the DOST targets to set up 967 3rd to 6th class towns in Metro Manila access points and “points of presence” in six Luzon, four Visayas, and four Mindanao cities.
To date, 14 cities and about 100 municipalities enjoy the free Wi-Fi service.
The DOST is proposing a total budget of P17.9 billion for 2016, which includes the P1.6 billion for the nationwide free Wi-Fi project next year.