July 24, 2015, Pasay City – The Juan Konek! Digital Empowerment Program’s Free Wi-Fi Internet Access in Public Places Project Launch kicked off the first day of the National Science and Technology Week, setting the tone for the whole week celebration themed, “Philippines: A Science Nation Innovating for Global Competitiveness” at the main stage of the SMX Convention Center.

The program was started by Undersecretary Louis Napoleon Casambre’s opening remarks, addressing more than 500 people in attendance and countless viewers watching the live stream online. He detailed the project’s ultimate goals: “Although we are not flying to the moon, the government’s vision of providing free internet to 99% under the Juan Konek! Digital Empowerment Program is a giant leap in itself for the Philippines. Our goal this year is to provide free Wi-Fi Internet connections in 967 class 3, 4, 5 and 6 municipalities from Luzon to Mindanao, prioritizing low income and underserved communities. It is high time that the rest of the country experience the economic and social revolution brought about by the internet,” He said.

Undersecretary Casambre added that during the launch, 6 locations around Metro Manila were ready to connect some 91,000 users online. The ceremonial switching-on of the access points was capped off with the Undersecretary being joined by Secretary Mario G. Montejo, Assistant Secretary Nicolas D. Ojeda, and the Honorable Senator Ralph G. Recto to officially activate the service within the 6 pilot sites.

The Keynote for All ICT Gatherings

The launching of the Free Wi-Fi Project goes hand in hand with the NSTW, as the week-long event featured other ICT enabled initiatives all tied together with the enabling capability of the Free Wi-Fi Internet Access. The “E-Government Master Plan: Where We Are Now?” and the “Government Network: Faster Delivery of Services to Citizens” addressed the state of government services in relation to the Free Wi-Fi Project; “Digital Literacy with Digibayanihan”, and “Rural Impact Sourcing: Promoting High Value Online Jobs in the Countryside” which followed in the succeeding days, discussed how to properly utilize internet connectivity as a means for commerce and information usage. All these programs will be augmented by the Free Wi-Fi Project’s planned infrastructure and interlocked by the Project’s final goal of Digital Empowerment.

Close, but the Job is not yet Done

The tasks to make the launch possible were difficult, but are not the ending point of all. As Undersecretary Casambre quoted the first moonwalkers in his speech, “The hardest part of the mission is landing,” officials and people of the project management team agree that the hardest challenges are yet to come.

Assistant Secretary Nicholas Ojeda Jr. identified two key components needed to support the project: Legal and Technical Backend Maintenance. According to his speech, laying the infrastructure is just the tip of iceberg, maintaining it requires strengthening cyber security measures implemented by the government network and hosting service, and concretizing its legal foundation. Legislation requiring the government to provide accessible free Wi-Fi Internet access to its citizens is needed.

The Demand is Heard and Will be Met

With the 2011 report submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council, describing the Internet as an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress, House Bill 1550 was authored and submitted in Congress. Now substituted by House Bill 5791, known as the “Free Wi-Fi Act”, the legal foundation for the project’s stable foothold on the country’s annual budget is under way. Kabataan Party List Representative Terry Ridon expressed optimism and at the same time asked for support in the passing of the bill in the Senate. He addressed the audience through a video during the event, saying: “It is very much important to get your support to tell our senators to fast track as well the passage of the Free Public Wi-Fi bill in the senate. And we are very much confident that before congress ends its session by 2016, Free Public Wi-Fi will soon be a law in the Philippines.”

The Free Wi-Fi Internet in Public Places Project under the Juan Konek! Digital Empowerment Program of the ICT Office of the DOST is a 1.4 Billion project aimed to connect 99% of the country by providing free Internet access in selected public places all across the country, giving priority to class 3, 4, 5 and 6 municipalities. It is the Office’s goal to deliver the benefits of the Internet to those who has yet to experience it and as well as make free connection available nationwide. It sees to finish roll out by third quarter of 2016.