The DICT’s Free Wi-Fi for All Program aims to provide not just free but also faster Internet speeds for the benefit of the Filipino people. Thus, in its deployment of free Internet sites through the Free Wi-Fi for All Program in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas (GIDAs), it employed Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) solutions that provide faster Internet speeds at a cheaper cost compared to the previous iteration of the similar initiative done through a partnership between the DICT and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)—20 times faster Internet speeds, at five-times lower costs.

This is amid issues of delay in the implementation of the latter project, called the UNDP “Pipol Konek” Project. Such issues were further fueled by allegations of violations of Philippine laws by Speedcast International Limited (SLI), which is UNDP’s chosen contractor for the Project.

“The Filipino is in need of fast, quality, and reliable digital connectivity, especially now that we are in the middle of a pandemic. Thus, we cannot allow any more delays in the provision of these free Internet sites,” DICT Secretary Gregorio “Gringo” B. Honasan II said.

“We have given UNDP and its foreign contractor numerous opportunities to comply with their obligations but unfortunately the Filipino People can no longer wait idly by. Connectivity is needed immediately. Especially in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas (GIDA) in our country,” he added.

The DICT’s deployment of free Wi-Fi sites in GIDAs is a component of the overall Free Wi-Fi for All Program, which provides free Internet in public places around the country.  While this deployment resembles the UNDP Pipol Konek Project as they both install sites in GIDAs using similar technologies, there are significant differentiators between the two deployments’ speeds and prices.

Several factors affect the price of any service.  With regard to procured MIS-VSAT, three major differentiators distinguish the UNDP procured sites versus the DICT procured sites, namely:

  • Committed information rate (CIR)—is the bandwidth guaranteed by an internet service provider to work under normal conditions, in other words, the minimum speed; the CIR is also used to determine the price of the bandwidth;
  • Maximum information rate (MIR)—in reference to broadband wireless refers to maximum bandwidth the subscriber unit will be delivered from the wireless access point; and
  • Number of Access Points—an access point is a device that creates a Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) which projects a Wi-Fi signal to a designated area, allowing devices such as mobile phones, tablets, and computers to connect to the WLAN to obtain access to the internet.

The DICT-deployed VSAT technology has a combined (download plus upload) CIR of 6.3 megabits per second (Mbps) with three access points per site, while the UNDP-deployed VSAT has a combined (download plus upload) CIR of 0.3 Mbps for one access point per site only. Overall, DICT’s MIS VSATs provides about 20 times faster minimum speeds than the UNDP VSATs. 

With respect to the maximum internet speeds, the DICT VSAT has a MIR of 25 Mbps, while a UNDP VSAT site has a MIR of 2 Mbps.

With respect to price, UNDP’s price per access point for its Phase 1 project is around Php 19,148 while DICT’s is at Php 30,000 per access point in absolute amounts. However, on a price per Mbps basis, a DICT-deployed VSAT costs only Php 14,285.71 per month per Mbps, compared to UNDP’s which costs Php 63,826.67 per month per Mbps.  In annual terms, a UNDP VSAT equates to Php 765,920.00 per Mbps per year, while a DICT VSAT is at Php 171,428.57.  Thus, the price of DICT VSATs is around five times cheaper than a UNDP VSAT.   DICT’s cost for the contracted 6.3 Mbps CIR per year is at Php 1,080,000. If a UNDP VSAT were to theoretically reach those speeds at the same cost per Mbps, the cost per year would be Php 4,825,296.

From the foregoing, it is clear that under DICT procurement and management, the DICT-VSAT services are not only cheaper on a per Mbps computation but provide faster speeds to our citizens as well.

The DICT further asserts that it has been transparent in its procurement activities, sensitive to the needs of isolated areas, and has adhered to relevant procurement, budgeting, and auditing laws, rules, and regulations. The mode of procurement for the recent contracts are authorized under Republic Act No. 11494, or the “Bayanihan to Recover as One Act”.  The funds utilized in the procurement of the recent VSAT contracts came from the regular 2020 budget of the DICT.

“The sites for the DICT VSATs are located in COVID-19 facilities in Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged areas or GIDA sites as these areas need free and adequate internet now more than ever during this pandemic. The best, or the fastest and easily deployable way to reach these sites are through VSAT technology,” Undersecretary Emmanuel Rey R. Caintic said.

Each Free Wi-Fi site has multiple users, and the available speed is divided among the different users accessing the sites at any given time.  With the 0.3 Mbps minimum speed in the UNDP sites, a single user cannot attend video conferencing meetings and is limited to using email and light browsing. However, with more users connecting to these sites, the bandwidth divided amongst them may not be sufficient to do so. Thus, the DICT required from its providers a higher MIR and CIR, to ensure that multiple users can have enough bandwidth for most applications at the Free Wi-Fi sites. This is very important given that all the 1,035 sites with the 3,105 access points are located in Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas, as identified by the DOH and verified by the DICT Regional Cluster Offices. These sites are barangay halls, rural health units, hospitals, quarantine facilities, and other areas which are used for the government’s ongoing response to the Covid-19 pandemic.          

“Further, the DICT would like to clarify that not all our sites utilize VSAT technology.  We are still continuing the rollout of our Free Wi-Fi sites in public places using fiber technology. The total number of deployed Free Wi-Fi sites to date is at 9,122 and we aim to provide a total deployment of 67,233 sites by end of 2022,” Undersecretary Caintic added.

“In this day and age, 0.3 Mbps will no longer suffice. We have to adapt to the changing times and the needs of the Filipino People. If we continue with phases 1 and 2 of the UNDP project, it would be tantamount to throwing away taxpayers’ money. We want to empower and uplift the lives of the Filipino People through connectivity. We want to break free of the notion that government-provisioned free Internet services are of low quality. Our goal is to provide the best possible service available and to do otherwise would be a disservice to the Filipino people,” he ended.