The Philippine government is undertaking a major digital infrastructure project aimed at enhancing internet speed, bringing down its cost, enhancing cybersecurity, and improving nationwide connection, with a particular focus on isolated areas.

Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Undersecretary Jeffrey Ian Dy announced during a Wednesday press briefing at Malacañang that the Philippine Digital Infrastructure Project (PDIP), funded by a $288 million World Bank loan, marks the largest and first of its kind to be undertaken under such financial support.

“It will seek to complete the National Fiber Backbone (NFB), which spans from—remember that in April, the president already launched the first phase of this, which goes from Baler to Laoag and to Metro Manila,” he stated.

This year, the DICT plans to finish Phases 2 and 3 of the NFB project, which would establish connectivity between Metro Manila and Southern Luzon. By securing the loan, he said the country will have the means to install domestic submarine cables spanning throughout the Visayas and establish connectivity with Mindanao.

On top of it, he said they would be able to provide 772 free WiFi sites in Regions 11 and 13.

He noted that based on their research, for every 10% increase in internet penetration grade, it constitutes approximately 1.38% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

“That is the reason why this project is very important. The reasons why we’re targeting regions in Mindanao is because, even though the entire country has an internet penetration rate of 73.6%—approximately 86 million Filipinos have access to internet—this disparity is larger in Mindanao,” Dy explained, adding the connectivity rate in Region 13 is lower than 17%.

He said that the NFP and the National Broadband Program (NBP) have been long-standing visions, and with the PDIP, they anticipate completion by 2028.

“With proper policies in place, we should be able to bring down the cost of the internet and bring up the speed of internet at par with our regional counterparts in the ASEAN,” he said.

The continuing negotiations with the World Bank about the interest rates are expected to be concluded soon. Once settled, Dy stated that procurement can commence by early next year.

The minimum speed starts at 50 megabits per second (Mbps), offering the potential to reach speeds of up to 200 Mbps once all the free WiFi sites are established. They will be established in public schools and rural health units.

Component 3 of the PDIP, he elaborated, focuses on securing the network—the NFB and the free WiFi networks.

“To give you an example, there is a law—yong anti-child exploitation—by the way, reminders to internet providers, we should be blocking child pornography sites, etc. Part of this entire package is to be able to create that security,” he stated.

He said they will also establish a network operations center to monitor attacks against the NFB.