Lack of funding for internet connectivity in SUCs questioned
MANILA, Philippines — A lawmaker questioned Wednesday the lack of funding to provide state universities and colleges (SUCs) with internet connectivity especially now with a new learning system being implemented amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
During the plenary deliberations on the proposed funding for SUCs, ACT Teachers Partylist Rep. France Castro said one of the “injustices” in the proposed 2021 budget is the “zero” funding for the Free Internet Wi-Fi Connectivity in Public Places and the Free Internet Wi-Fi Connectivity in SUCs projects under the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).
Castro said that under the 2020 budget, these programs have allocated funding of P50 million each. However, the lawmaker said both programs now have “zero” funding in the proposed 2021 budget.
“Kung kailan ba naman matindi ang pangangailangan dahil sa online learning at blended learning ay saka pa walang maasahan mula sa GAA (General Appropriations Act) ang mga SUCs, mga guro at estudyante for internet Wi-Fi connectivity,” Castro said.
(This is the time when the SUCs, teachers, and students need internet Wi-Fi connectivity the most, and yet they can’t rely on the GAA)
In response, Northern Samar 1st District Rep. Paul Daza, who was defending the budget for the SUCs, said the DICT has proposed funding for the Free Wi-Fi project for 2021 on top of funds that SUCs can access through the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2.
Under the special provisions of the proposed 2021 budget, the DICT has set aside P2.7 billion for the implementation of the Free Internet Access Program sourced from the spectrum users fees collected by the National Telecommunications Commission. Of this amount, P2.417 billion is allocated for the Free Internet Wi-Fi Connectivity in Public Places while P307.8 million is set aside for Free Internet WiFi Connectivity in SUCs.
“The SUC was supposed to do a capability survey with the CHED and DILG and depending on the information that they shared, mayroong (there are) additional P3 billion sa Bayanihan 2 na pwedeng ma-access ng mga SUC,” Daza explained.
Daza, nonetheless, recognized the problems with internet connectivity saying that Region 8, where Northern Samar is located, also faces the same issues.
The Northern Samar lawmaker, however, said SUCs also have their own individual budgets.
Lower spectrum user fees
Castro likewise lamented the planned lower spectrum user fees (SUF) for service providers.
The SUF is collected annually from mobile service providers that were assigned frequency bandwidth based on the amount of spectrum used, the type of service being offered, and the economic classification of the areas covered by cell sites.
SUFs, Castro, could have been useful to help provide fund internet connectivity for SUCs.
“Duda rin ang kinatawang ito lalo na sa sinasabi kamakailan ng DICT na ibababa nila ‘yung spectrum users fee. Ang binibigay na dahilan ay para ma-encourage daw ang mga maliliit na telcos na pumasok sa home internet services,” Castro said.
(This representation still has doubts over the DICT’s plan to lower the spectrum users fee. Their reason is to encourage small telecommunication companies to enter the home internet services business.)
“Ang meron, mga higanteng telcos at sila lang mga makaka-menos sa pagbaba ng SUF. So menos sa gastos ng higanteng telcos pero bababa ang singil ng SUF and consequently, bababa rin ang maibibigay natin na panggastos,” she added.
(But only big telecommunication companies can benefit from the lower SUF. Lower costs for huge telcos but consequently, the funds we can give for the programs will also be lower.)
Daza backed Castro’s sentiments but said that lawmakers would first need to talk to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and the DICT.
“I support that, but that’s outside the scope of the budget of the SUCs. But should my distinguished colleague make a push whether, through legislation or dialog with the DICT and NTC, this representation will support her because I am familiar with the spectrum user fees issue,” Daza said.
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