The USAID Better Access and Connectivity (BEACON) project aims to enhance Internet connectivity in remote communities of the country, such as Batanes and Palawan.
John Avila, an economic growth specialist from the Office of Economic Development and Governance of the USAID, said this initiative is in partnership with the Philippine Space Agency’s (PhilSA) program, INCENTIVISE (Introducing Non-Geostationary Satellite Constellations Test Deployment to Improve Internet Services).
He said the USAID BEACON is keen on working towards bridging the digital divide and ensuring equal access to the benefits of the Internet for all communities.
BEACON is a five-year project with the primary objective of fostering inclusive and resilient economic growth in the Philippines. This comprehensive initiative aims to enhance productivity, facilitate trade, and drive innovation by focusing on the improvement of the digital infrastructure ecosystem.
“We have a grant mechanism under the BEACON project to support community networks to use a variety of technologies—mostly using terrestrial, but some of them also uses satellite. We just provided Internet connectivity to a small barangay composed of 150 families in a very remote barangay in Aurora province, and just the other week, we went to Butuan City to also help with connectivity issues there,” he said.
“We work mostly with the Philippine Space Agency in this program called INCENTIVISE, which is basically to build Internet connections in remote areas,” he added.
In October 2021, PhilSA initiated the INCENTIVISE Open Call with the objective of showcasing the significance of the space sector and emerging space technologies in addressing the digital divide in the country.
PhilSA, in partnership with the Department of Science and Technology-Advanced Science and Technology Institute (DOST-ASTI) and in collaboration with the USAID BEACON, is responsible for the implementation of the project.
As INCENTIVISE rolls out, Avila said BEACON will be launching Internet connectivity in Tawi-Tawi using Starlink, as well as in the provinces of Palawan and Batanes in the future.
Avila said community Internet connectivity is essential for access to information, economic development, social connection, education, civic engagement, health, and reducing inequalities. It empowers individuals, strengthens communities, and fosters overall progress and well-being.
One example of how community Internet connectivity supports the importance he mentioned is the Central Visayas Information Sharing Network Foundation, Inc. (CVISNET). CVISNET represents a pioneering effort by the government and the private sector to leverage Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in order to provide productivity and business enhancement solutions.
By connecting individuals and organizations in the Central Visayas region, CVISNET promotes access to information, economic development, social connection, education, civic engagement, health, and the reduction of inequalities. This initiative empowers individuals, strengthens communities, and fosters overall progress and well-being.
In Gilutongan, Caohagan, and Pangaan in Cebu, students avail themselves of the Piso Net provided by CVISNET to stay connected for two hours. This allows them to avoid traveling long distances to gain access.
“You can see all the kids are there in the sari-sari store with the piso connection. In many of these places, it’s their first time to experience the Internet—they never had Internet in their areas before. They had to travel to nearest municipalities to download whatever they need. It’s difficult for them,” he said.
By promoting community internet, Avila said USAID BEACON aims to enable individuals, businesses, and institutions in underserved areas to access the opportunities and benefits offered by the digital world.