Philippines to install 23,000 free public Wi-Fi hotspots

To help plague time working and learning, even though schools are to remain closed until a vaccine is found

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The Philippines has revealed plans to install 23,100 free Wi-Fi sites to help adapt the country to remote work and education during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) said on Friday that it had earmarked 7.7bn pesos ($155m) to increase the number of free Wi-Fi spots at public institutions by five and a half times.

The funding will go towards the "Free Wi-Fi for All Program", which was launched in 2016. The initiative aims to "accelerate economic, social, and educational opportunities" by providing Wi-Fi points at public institutions across the country. The program has installed 4,248 live sites as of June this year, according to DICT.

Roughly half of the sites will be installed in the education sector, such as public schools, colleges, and universities. The other half will be installed in public offices, including national and local government offices, public hospitals and rural health centres, libraries, transport terminals, and public parks and plazas.

The new access will likely have had a muted effect in Manila, where most workers have access to internet and were already adopting remote working practices to avoid the city's notorious traffic. But new infrastructure will make a big difference in the country's regional areas, where many continue to depend on mobile connections for internet access. 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 [PDF].

The massive Wi-Fi rollout highlights the fact that the Philippines has decided to keep children learning from home until a vaccine for the novel coronavirus is found. Just how installing free Wi-Fi at empty schools will help is anyone's guess.

The new funding further signals how the Philippines plans to kickstart its economy out of its pandemic-induced dip. President Duterte has implemented one of the strictest and longest-lasting lockdowns in the world. Schools, offices and public transport on the island of Luzon, home to Manila and about half the country's 107m people, shut down in March. A planned April re-opening deadline has been repeatedly pushed back. Restrictions eased a little on July 15, but local lockdowns have been reintroduced to combat emerging clusters of new COVID-10 cases. ®

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