As schools prepare to make distance learning the norm amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Senator Win Gatchalian has filed a resolution seeking a Senate inquiry on the implementation of Republic Act No.10929 or the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act (FIAPPA).
Senate Resolution No. 392 specifically aims to determine the law’s implementation coverage and effectivity in elementary and secondary public schools, Alternative Learning System (ALS) centers, state universities and colleges (SUCs), Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) technology institutions, and other community learning centers.
As the lead implementing agency of the FIAPPA, which was signed into law in 2017, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) has launched the Pipol Konek Project – the Free Wi-Fi Internet Access For All in Public Places for the enhancement of internet accessibility to bolster economic, social, and educational opportunities for Filipinos and bridge the growing digital divide.
The DICT has entered into a partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to install 6,000 last mile hotspot sites in the country’s remotest, unserved, and disadvantaged communities.
However, the DICT has not been meeting its targets. In 2018, the DICT targeted to add 5,308 sites in 1,500 cities. As of April 13, 2020, the list provided in the DICT website says there are only 3,707 live sites for the Free Wi-Fi For All hotspots across the country’s public spaces.
“Mahalaga ang papel ng Free Wi-Fi for All lalo na ngayong panahon ng pandemya kung saan inihahanda natin ang mga paaralan sampu ng mga estudyante at guro pati na lahat ng kawani ng sektor ng edukasyon pagdating ng pasukan. Importanteng natutugunan ng gobyerno ang mga pangangailangang ito upang magpatuloy ang pag-aaral ng mga bata lalo na’t hinihikayat na ang online learning sa pagsabak natin sa tinatawag na new normal,” said Gatchalian, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture.
According to Department of Education (DepEd) Undersecretary for Administration Alain Pascua, only 48 percent or 22,645 of the country’s 47,013 public schools have connectivity. There are 16.7 million learners enrolled in these schools.
Gatchalian also noted that during the hearing of the 2019 national budget, the DICT reported that there were only 17 free Wi-Fi hotspots installed in the country’s 112 SUCs as of December 2018.
Aside from educational institutions, public places covered under the FIAPPA include government offices, public health institutions and centers, public parks, plazas, libraries, barangay reading centers, public airports, seaports, and transport terminals.