Senators want to fast-track construction of cell sites to broaden public Wi-Fi scope

MANILA — Senators on Thursday saw the need to fast-track the construction of cell sites to broaden the scope of free public Wi-Fi in the country.

Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, Chair of the Senate Committee on Science and Technology, said four or five Senate measures are pushing for free Wi-Fi in public places.

The Department of Communications and Information Technology (DICT) is currently drafting an executive order (EO) to fast-track the construction of cell sites. Aquino has said that the Senate is planning to file a counterpart bill to speed up the process.

During Thursday’s committee hearing on free public Wi-Fi, telecommunications companies said that while they have the initiative to put up more cell sites, it is difficult for them to secure permits from local government units (LGUs).

“Ease of doing business is one problem, lack of infrastructure is another problem,” Aquino said in an interview.

“According to telcos, even if they want to put up facilities, LGUs do not allow them. DICT Sec. (Rodolfo) Salalima said that it is necessary to have a provision in the law to fast-track securing of permits,” he added.

Senator Grace Poe meanwhile said that she appreciates the agency’s efforts to draft an EO that will harmonize efforts with LGUs to be able to process permits immediately.

“It’s better that we cooperate and we intend to draft a bill that will not only fast-track getting permits from all of these different LGUs from 25 different permits to maybe just a few and to make sure that the duration of the permit is more than just a year, unless certain violations are made,” Poe said.

The DICT has previously committed to put free Wi-Fi in 12,000 public places by November 2017. By the end of the year, about 5,000 public places will have free Wi-Fi access.

Aquino said the Senate panel will meet with the DICT again when the agency is ready to present a National Broadband Plan.

Wi-Fi in schools

Aquino, who also chairs the Senate Committee on Education, Arts and Culture, meanwhile raised concerns after the Department of Education (DepEd) revealed during the hearing that only 26 percent of schools in the country have Internet connectivity.

He urged the DICT, DepEd and telcos to cooperate so that within the next year, they could roll out more Internet-ready schools.

“By providing Internet connectivity in our schools, we’re allowing our schools to be taken to the future,” Aquino said.

“Public schools need reliable Internet connection to support and enhance the learning capabilities of students by giving them access to learning materials and online information,” he added.

He further said that he would eventually want to see a roadmap on how many years it would take to provide all schools in the country with Wi-Fi access. Azer Parrocha/ PNA/