Philippines government tech agency seeks 750 percent budget boost for COVIDigital transformation

Most of it to go on new internet infrastructure to keep citizens working and learning remotely

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The Philippines's Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) has sought approval of a PHP46.6bn ($942m) budget for fiscal 2021 to help the country adapt to the "new normal" during the COVID-19 pandemic - a lazy 750 percent higher than the PHP6bn budget it's working with this year.

If approved, the upsized allocation will go towards building infrastructure to support Filipinos working and studying from home during the virus pandemic.

About half of the new budget is earmarked for developing the nation's connectivity and access programmes. This includes several of the DICT's flagship initiatives, such as the National Broadband Program, the Free Wifi for All in Public Places Act, the State and Universities College Program, and the Government Emergency Communications system

DICT's new budget package will also allocate PHP11.7bn to DICT's Digital Government initiatives, PHP10.2bn for Digital Workforce and Digital Education, as well as PHP1bn to bolster the nation's cybersecurity

"Digital connectivity and access is the foundation of digital transformation," said DICT Secretary, Gregorio B Honasan II. "It is only with secure and reliable internet connectivity for every Filipino that we can implement programmes and initiatives towards digitisation in various sectors of our society."

Only about 55 per cent of Filipinos and 25 per cent of the country's public schools have access to the internet, according to the Asia Foundation. A 2017 report [PDF] on the country's broadband infrastructure noted that the it "lags behinds its peers in terms of affordability, availability, and speed of internet".

Over the last few years government and non-government bodies have pushed for policy reforms, but change has been slow. The market is controlled by several slow-moving telcos that have been reluctant to make room for new players.

Last year, the government approved reforms to classify satellites as a "basic telecommunication service", a move which many see as making room for new players to enter the field without being bogged down by legal and regulatory barriers. ®

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