P4.8B spent, little to show
The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) failed in implementing the Free Wi-Fi for all project, which was one of the pledges of President Rodrigo Duterte in his first State of the Nation Address (SoNA).
In the process, it threw away P1.24 billion in public funds in 2017 alone, the Commission on Audit (CoA) said in a report.
The CoA blamed the failed project to “the lack of meticulous and judicious planning coupled with ineffective coordination with local government units (LGU) and private suppliers and service providers.”
The CoA said since 2015, when the project started under the name Juan Konek, the government had allotted P4.82 billion for it.
The report said 19 awarded contracts under “Pipol Konek” from March 2016 to October 2017 were either “suspended, delayed or not completed” within the contract time.
The DICT, thus, failed to deliver on the Free Wi-Fi services covering 1,634 municipalities and cities nationwide, the CoA said.
After three years since the project started, only 1,047 sites or 15 per cent of the target 7,058 sites were provided with free Wi-Fi.
The CoA said the unsuccessful first phase of the project “may ultimately affect the timely delivery of the envisioned 13,024 live sites at the end of 2017 and the additional 5,308 sites with a total P6.507-billion budget from 2015 to 2018.”
The failed project was among the missed opportunities under the DICT that, according to a Daily Tribune source, also included the massive delay in the choice of the third telecommunications firm which was another key agenda of Mr. Duterte.
The source said “while the NTC [National Telecommunications Commission] recommended holding an auction for the third telco [telecommunications company] selection instead of a ‘beauty pageant,’ DICT never brought this recommendation to the Telco Oversight Committee.”
“In an auction, the third telco not only promises to invest and compete, but is required to actually invest prior to it being chosen. On the other hand, a beauty pageant is like a proposal with no ring. The groom kneels, asks the bride to marry him, but instead of presenting a ring, he describes what the ring looks like, whether it has diamonds or pearls, and based on a mere description, he asks the bride to decide,” the source added.
To bridge digital divide
CoA noted “Pipol Konek” should have fulfilled Mr. Duterte’s promise in the “SoNA on July 25, 2016 where he stated Wi-Fi access must be provided to the public at no charge.”
The report added the project aims to close the “digital divide” and build an inclusive and thriving information and communications technology environment focused on developing the countryside by delivering free broadband Internet access to different municipalities and cities.
“Participants were taught the basic steps on how to connect to the free Wi-Fi and were provided information on different government e-services,” it added.
The Free Wi-Fi project sought to accelerate the government’s effort in enhancing Internet access for Filipinos and help their economic, social and educational upliftment.
No free Internet yet
The CoA said the project should have been completed this year with most of the country covered by Free Wi-Fi connection mainly in 5,250 public schools, colleges and universities nationwide.
“This is part of the total 13,024 sites (P3.060-billion budget) to be covered by the end of 2017, with this number leaping to 18,332 sites (totaling P6.507 billion estimated budget to be spent) by 2018,” the report added.
Until the end of last year, the project was not “timely, efficiently and effectively implemented as initially envisioned.”
“Out of 15 projects which started February 2016 to July 2016, with completion dates from April 2016 to December 2016, 13 or 86.66 percent of contracts were suspended and two have zero accomplishment,” the report added.
The CoA said that 19 contracts which started from January 2017 to October 2017 with completion dates from July 2017 to December 2017 have accomplishments that “ranged from zero to 9.52 percent and all contracts were suspended.”
3rd telco delayed
The DICT is also getting flak over the decision of its leadership favoring “to contact the domestic players and negotiate the terms with them.”
“To have the frequencies awarded without financial inputs encourages flippers—people with connections to regulatory captured agencies who bid for assets only to profit from a quick trade sale instead of actually delivering services to the public,” the source said.
While the DICT said the “selection of the 3rd telco is of paramount interest” in the Oversight Committee’s review of the draft ToR (terms of reference), Information and Communications acting Secretary Eliseo Rio had asked for “one month to do his job and select a third telco (by himself).”