LEGAZPI CITY -- The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) is all set for the implementation of the nationwide free Wi-Fi Internet access in all public places nationwide.

Undersecretary Louis Casambre of the Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO) said on Saturday that the total number of beneficiary-municipalities now stands at 1,435.

“We intend to increase the budget allocation for municipal connectivity for the project by around 50 percent. We will also be including Class 1 and Class 2 municipalities in order to better reach classes 3 to 6, the ones who need Internet connectivity the most,” she said.

The government, according to the DOST’s project management team, has allocated at least P1.6 billion from the 2015 unobligated funds for the 2016 budget.

The free Wi-Fi in public places project will install wireless Internet access points in public places such as town plazas, parks, government offices, health units, and transport terminals -- including train stations, seaports and airports.

World Bank studies have shown that every 10-percent increase in broadband Internet penetrations translates to 1.38-percent increase in a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth.

The DOST-ICTO’s Free Wi-Fi Internet Access in Public Places project will be including Class 1 and 2 municipalities in its rollout, in order to better reach the Class 3 to 6 municipalities, which are the original target beneficiaries of the project.

The DOST-ICTO is the government's lead agency on ICT-related matters.

Its primary thrusts are in the ICT industry development, e-government, ICT policy development, Internet for all and cybersecurity.

The decision to include Class 1 and 2 municipalities initially stemmed from the low participation in the procurement of providers for the original 967 beneficiary-municipalities.

A reason cited by the providers was the low price of Allocated Budget for Contract (ABC) for the various municipalities.

Casambre said that providers would need to upgrade and expand their communications infrastructure in order to serve far-flung areas, and with Class 1 and 2 municipalities included, it would be easier for them to reach the poorer communities.

“Tenders are currently being prepared for the new municipalities with the new budget, and they should be available soon,” Casambre said.

DOST Secretary Mario G. Montejo, she said, was hopeful that with the increased budget, the industry would better participate in the program.

“We are looking forward to providing connectivity through our private sector partners, especially in the rural areas. With Internet connectivity readily available, their lives can be enhanced with better access to weather information, education, agricultural resources, commerce, e-government services, as well as employment, through online jobs” she quoted Montejo as saying.

Domestic Internet connectivity to the 14 major cities of the project, which will act as hubs for the project, has already been awarded to joint venture Innove & Yondu Inc.

Connectivity to the international Internet was awarded to PLDT; while connectivity to various municipalities was awarded to WIT, Converge ICT Solutions and a joint venture between AZ Communications and Omniprime.

The system and management and access component of the project, which will oversee the nationwide network of access points and provide the hardware necessary, was awarded to Abratique and Associates Inc. which will be utilizing CISCO equipment to deliver connectivity to the end users. (PNA)