Lawmaker proposes use of internet boosters from elections to support online classes

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 9) — A lawmaker is proposing the use of internet boosters to facilitate online learning for about 32 million students nationwide.

Iligan City Representative Frederick Siao, who also serves as Vice Chairman for the House Committee on Information and Communications Technology, said the equipment used for automated elections may be used to boost internet connectivity, especially in the far flung areas.

"These are equipments used to transmit or to connect with areas na walang signal, na walang internet signal (without internet signal)," Siao said in an interview. "I think this might be possible in providing online internet access to our students all over the Philippines."

Siao said the Department of Education should check if the equipment used by the Commission on Elections back in 2016 and 2019 can be used again, given the short amount of time left before the opening of classes.

"There's a plan of going online, eh ang daming students lalo na from far flug barangays without internet, telecommunications signal ang maleleft out nito," Siao said. "These equipments might be useful in putting kids online or the teachers from far flung areas online to access their daily modules na galing sa schools nila."

DepEd earlier released the calendar for the next school year, with classes slated to begin this August 24, and expected to end in April 2021.

Education Secretary Leonor Briones said the department is ready to take on the challenges of offering alternatives to physical classes, such as online and "blended" learning.

Siao pointed out that the ICT situation in the country today is still lacking, with many barangays including about ten in his lone district of Iligan City without access to internet or cellphone signals.

"'Yung mga telecommunication antennas or 'yung mga cell sites ay wala pa rin," Siao said. "It means it's very difficult for the students to have access to what they need to learn from the schools."

But Comelec Spokesman James Jimenez admitted the proposal may be hard to carry out, since the machines used for automated elections do not belong to them.

"'Yung ginamit natin nung 2019 (what we used in 2019) yung mga BGAN, mga VSAT, lahat yan naka lease lamang, we only leased those devices," Jimenez said in an interview. "So we don't actually have BGAN devices or VSATs in our possession."

The Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) is a global satellite network, which allows BGAN terminals to connect with any one of the satellites regardless of location, resulting in high-speed internet connection.

Jimenez said the BGAN machines that Comelec previously owned have been turned over to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), who now has about 100 units.

"We did have BGANs before but we turned them over to the DOST and they used them for several projects, particularly 'yung Project NOAH," Jimenez said.

"If we ever need the BGAN from DOST, papahiram nila sa atin (they will lend it to us), but other than that we don't have any devices."

Internet speeds must be fast and cheap or else it may hinder the revival of the Philippine economy, the World Bank said Tuesday, as the "new normal" will see more Filipinos relying on digital platforms for work, school, and day-to-day needs.