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The Philippines’ Department of Science and Technology (DOST) launched a Free Wi-Fi Internet Access project during the National Science and Technology Week activities held in Manila on 24 July.

Initially planned for rural communities only, the project budget was increased by the Senate to 3 billion pesos (US$66 million) to include public schools and libraries, state universities and colleges, parks, rural health units and government hospitals, light rail transit stations, airports and seaports, city and municipal halls, and national government offices.

According to Louis Casambre, DOST undersecretary for information and communications technology, “any increase in Internet connectivity through free Wi-Fi internet access in public places will help jumpstart economic development by giving access to e-commerce, e-learning and e-government tools to beneficiaries”.

In short, this means access to online jobs and the opportunity for online selling.

Bettina Quimson, deputy executive director of the DOST’s ICT Office, also points out that free Wi-Fi access would help improve the educational and healthcare systems in these areas by providing access to online education and healthcare services.

Additionally, internet connectivity will provide access to government websites such as those of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) or Project NOAH (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards), which inform citizens about weather conditions and impending disturbances.

Currently in an early version, the free Wi-Fi service is now available at two popular public parks in  Quezon City and Manila to assess the system before expanding on a larger scale. The ICT Office says it is prepared to provide access for up to 105,000 concurrent internet users at the lowest prevailing speed requirement for broadband service of 256 kilobits per second. The current pilot sites in Metro Manila rides on the government fibre network while connectivity for rural areas will be bid out to Internet Service Providers and cable providers.

While I believe the intention of the project is good, the idea appears quite idealistic. At just 256 kbps, the free Internet won’t be fast enough for the intended uses such as for e-learning and e-commerce.

This begs the question whether the project is truly useful and whether DOST will really achieve what it says it wants to achieve.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South-East Asia & Pacific desk.