The free public Wi-Fi bill approved by the Senate today will not only make internet services available to all Filipinos, but will make sure that broadband services are faster and more efficient.
“Today marks the era that we, Filipinos, finally commence the march to digital age,” said Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, in explaining his vote for the approval of Senate Bill No. 1277 or the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act.
The proposal seeks to provide free internet access in all national and local government offices; public schools, including state colleges and universities; public hospitals and health centers; public parks, plazas, and libraries; and airports, seaports, and transport terminals.
But Recto, one of the original proponents and now the co-sponsor of the measure, stressed that “the benchmark in gauging effectivity is not just the number of Wi-Fi spots but also Internet speed.”
“If Internet is a human right, then Wi-FI is a basic public service. But for it to become one, the hindrances which bar its full enjoyment by the people must first be removed,” the senator added.
It was Recto who, in 2014, moved that the Senate increase the budget allocated for the Free Public Wi-Fi Project of the DOTC’s Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO), the precursor of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).
“It is my pleasure to finally vote on a bill which I first filed in May 2014,” Recto said.
“Although the Free National Wi-Fi Project is now in full swing, by virtue of another legislative route — through three General Appropriations Acts, including this year’s – still, the best way to guarantee its continuation is through a charter,” he explained.
By end of the year, it is projected that 13,024 sites covered by 18 Points of Presence in 1,489 towns and 145 under the Free Public Wi-Fi Project are up and running.
The funding came from the P4.8 billion appropriated since 2015.
“To firewall this public service from being knocked down by changing political winds – to prevent the plug from being pulled – the passage of this bill is required,” Recto stressed.
“More so that much remains to be done. For this year and next, 1,880 public elementary schools, 2,688 public high schools, and 682 state colleges are targeted for connection,” he said.
Overall, the project aims to roll out 23,631 sites by 2018, expanding it four-fold to 100,349 by 2026.
“Others may deride free public Wi-Fi hotspots as populist-driven conveniences. Sadly, those who embrace this falsehood have not been able to fully grasp the empowering potential of ICT,” Recto said.
“Because the only way to view free Wi-Fi hotspots, my friends, is to treat them for what they are – as a form of ‘liberation technology,'” he added.
Recto noted that while trolls, fake news purveyors, and manufacturers of weapons of mass distractions ride on the same technology platform, “the damage to individual brains or collective consciousness they inflict is far smaller than the greater good that ICT brings.”
“For every troll farm, there are millions of farmers whose lives have been made better by ICT. The truth is mass Wi-Fi services form part of the ICT solutions which can ease the pain caused by the many problems we confront today, if not make them totally go away,” the senator pointed out.
With the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act, Recto expressed belief that the big government investments in free Wi-Fi spots would nudge forward the upstream reforms in the telecoms sector all Filipinos would like to see.
“In this bill are provisions that will improve internet speed, better broadband services, slash the red tape that retards ICT growth. If we want a thousand Wi-Fi spots to bloom, we must cut the thicket of regulations choking its growth,” the senator explained.
“Permitting problems encountered by DICT contractors and telcos in putting up facilities must be ended in one declogging sweep of administrative bottlenecks,” he added.
According to Recto, the salient provisions of the bill that will ensure accessible and faster internet services include:
- The DICT shall streamline the process for the application, renewal and release of permits, licenses and clearances needed for the construction of infrastructure or installation of equipment
- Licenses and permits must be approved and released within seven days after submission of complete requirements and payments of the corresponding fees
- The DICT shall prohibit any unfair method of competition and exclusivity arrangements in favor of a single telecommunications entity
- The DICT, in coordination with the National Telecommunications Commission, shall be allowed the free use of available and unassigned spectrum for the free public internet access program
- The excess capacity of private sector partners may be offered to deliver supplemental internet access service for a reasonable fee
- To lower costs, increase and improve the free internet access for public spaces, private service providers are encouraged to exchange data traffic at domestic internet protocol (ip) exchanges, which may be designated by the DICT
- The NTC shall provide minimum standards for quality of service, including but not limited to download speed, latency, packet loss, and jitter for public free internet service
- The minimum quality of service standards for free public internet access services shall not be lower than minimum quality of service standards provided for retail basic internet connectivity services offered to the public
28 JUN 2016: Keynote Speech: From fighting crime to cutting red tape, how DICT can help, National ICT Summit 2016, Novotel Hotel, Quezon City, 28 June 2016
24 May 2016: Recto: DICT to make Phl an electronic republic
17 APR 2016: Recto: 12 regions to get free public Wi-Fi by June
24 FEB 2015: Keynote Speech: The Importance of a Department of Information and Communications Technology, First General Membership Meeting – Infocomm Technology Association of the Philippines (ITAP)
21 NOV 2014: Senate OKs funding for 51,000 free Wi-Fi spots
28 MAY 2014: Faster internet speed pressed
SENATE BILLS/AUTHORED LAWS
04 JUL 2016: Senate Bill No. 269: Bilis Konek Act of 2016
21 JUL 2016: Senate Bill No. 816: Free Public Wi-Fi Act of 2016
21 JUL 2016: Senate Bill No. 855: ICT in Education Act of 2016