Microsoft provides Internet connectivity to fisherfolk in the Philippines

The Philippines Government has established Internet connectivity using TV White Spaces in six remote municipalities in Bohol, a province of 1.2 million residents, enabling better electronic citizen services and improved disaster recovery.

The Bohol municipalities of Tubigon, Talibon, Trinidad, Bien Unido, Ubay and Carlos P Carcia are home to fisherfolk communities who live in remote coastal areas with little to no Internet connectivity. The majority of the population are not registered in the Government’s National Municipal Fisherfolk Registration (or FishR) system, and therefore do not have access to citizen services and benefits.

To address this challenge, the Department of Science and Technology’s Information and Communication Technology Office (DOST-ICT Office), the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR), the Philippine office of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Microsoft Philippines leveraged TV White Spaces, or unused TV broadcast channels, to roll out Internet connectivity in these remote areas.

The team has identified 15 schools, strategically located across the municipalities, to be equipped with TV White Spaces technology so they can serve as registration and service hubs for fisherfolk.

“Instead of travelling to their municipal hall and losing a day’s worth of income, these fisherfolk can now conveniently register themselves on FishR, process and pick up important documents such as IDs, permits and certificates, as well as access the benefits of the Government’s poverty alleviation programmes,” said Lawrence Ang, Public-Private Partnership Specialist with SSG Advisors under the Ecosystems Improved for Sustainable Fisheries (ECOFISH) Project of USAID/Philippines.

DOST-ICT Office’s Executive Director Louis Napoleon Casambre said, “This project will transform the lives of fisherfolk because this will be a tool for them to access their entitlements. We will strive even harder to further this project for the benefit of our fisherfolk in Bohol. We need the active participation of the community to ensure that this will be a highly successful programme for all.”

Besides enabling basic citizen services, TV White Spaces played a critical role in disaster recovery efforts last October when Bohol was hit by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake.

“Communication and power were down. Fortunately, with TV White Spaces technology, we were able to provide connectivity to relief workers and first responders, so that non-government organizations such as World Food Programme and USAID could coordinate where to channel resources,” recounted Ang who was on site not long after the disaster.

According to Dondi Mapa, the National Technology Officer of Microsoft Philippines, the larger distance that TV White Spaces spectrum can cover compared to traditional Wi-Fi or cellular technology is a major advantage for disaster areas.

“The connectivity provided by very small aperture terminals (VSAT) would be only for those in close physical proximity, and so would cause people to converge in a single area, thus causing congestion. By using TV White Spaces, the connectivity can be extended outwards to evacuation centers that can be as far away as 5 to 10 kilometers from the VSAT,” noted Mapa.

The TV White Spaces initiative is now being turned over to the six Bohol municipalities, which will take over all components of the project and technology, including Windows 8 devices that will be used for mobile registration and services.

“At Microsoft, we are committed to creating a lasting impact in the community through technology. We are glad that the project supports the government’s efforts to improve the management of our coastal resources which contributes to inclusive growth in these fishing communities,” concluded Mapa.

Report: Kelly Ng

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