The DICT-UNDP Free Wi-Fi for All project supports the Philippine Government’s Department of Information and Communications Technology’s (DICT) commitment to accelerate the roll-out of the Free Wi-Fi for All National Program, under Republic Act 10929 - An Act Establishing the Free Internet Access Program in Public Places in the Country and Appropriating Funds Therefor.
The DICT-UNDP project aims to connect 6,000 sites in remote, vulnerable, and off-grid communities in the country by December 2022. The project represents five percent of the DICT’s Free Wi-Fi for All National Program total target of 120,000 sites.
The project reaches out to the most geographically challenging areas, communities and people, who live in tough to access regions.
In addition to providing free Wi-Fi services, the DICT-UNDP project also provides a feedback loop, an opportunity for users of the Wi-Fi service provided by the project to monitor and report on the quality and responsible use of internet service.
DICT transferred USD 25,485,535.59 (PHP 1,362,084,618.28) to UNDP Philippines for the project, through a Financing Agreement and a Project Initiation Plan signed in September 2018.
The selection of contractors for the installation of free Wi-Fi sites went through an open and fair international competitive bidding process. For Phase 1, the winning proposal was submitted by Speedcast Limited as lead contractor with PHILCOMSAT, as its sub-contractor. The Speedcast Limited and PHILCOMSAT proposal offered a strong combination of international and local expertise. At the time of submission, their winning bid displayed the best capacity to cover the number of sites required and the ability to reach and work in remote locations.
Delays in site activations have been due to pandemic restrictions, mobility limitations, and commercial challenges faced by the contractor and its sub-contractor. All these have been regularly shared and discussed with DICT.
As of 30 April 2021, 882 free Wi-Fi sites have been installed and activated in public areas, benefitting more than 350,000 users in remote places, with limited or no access to commercial internet. The free Wi-Fi service has been advantageous, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, to low-income communities of provinces such as Isabela, Cagayan, Benguet, Palawan, Davao del Sur, Lanao del Sur and Sorsogon.
With 35 percent of the active sites located in public schools, already equipped with ICT gear under the UNDP K-12 Computerization Program, the free Wi-Fi service also aided teachers and students, providing access to teaching and learning materials, since 2020. In Sorsogon, 78 rural health units were provided with free Wi-Fi services, allowing health care workers and residents to access and share critical health information related to the ongoing pandemic.
On the alleged undervalued shipments of telecommunications equipment imported between January to June 2020, by the contractor, when UNDP was made aware of alleged irregularities in import duties, it contacted Speedcast to take immediate action. UNDP has referred all allegations received to its independent Office of Audit and Investigation (OAI), in accordance with its policies and procedures.
The matter is now under investigation.
UNDP requires all its contractors to abide by national laws in performing and fulfilling their obligations. In issues related to allegations of mismanagement and other irregularities, UNDP’s policies and procedures on transparency and accountability are clear, robust and in accordance with international standards.
UNDP understands that DICT has organized a Task Force to investigate the issue, in response to the Bureau of Customs (BOC) report. UNDP welcomes review of the project and supports the government’s investigation. We have regular interactions with senior officials of DICT and have mutually agreed on guiding principles moving forward, including the return of unused funds to DICT and ensuring that the 882 installed and activated free Wi-Fi sites continue to provide services to the beneficiaries.
In our effort to support sustainable development, UNDP Philippines remains committed to working with our partners in harnessing technology to address the digital divide and to create digital solutions to reach marginalized and vulnerable communities in the time of the pandemic and beyond.