Bicam panel approves final version of free public WiFi bill

The government is one step closer to the establishment of a free Internet access program as the Senate and House bicameral committee approved the reconciled versions of the bills on Monday, May 15.

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The “Free Internet Access in Public Places Act” mandates the government, including local government units (LGUs), to provide free Internet access in government offices and public places.

To see to it that Internet access can cater the needs of the users, the bill requires that the minimum Internet speed per user be 2Mbps.

Further, use of available or unassigned spectrum may be granted to government agencies and private entities to ensure faster Internet service to the people.

With a faster Internet in government offices, it is hoped that services such as issuance of permits and processing of business requirements will be accelerated.

Tarlac Rep. Victor Yap, chairperson of the House committee on ICT and one of the authors of the measure, said the Internet is now an indispensable tool to the Filipino youth.

“This is the Internet age. The youth of this generation relies on fast and accessible Internet for their research in school. The working class utilizes the Internet to perform their function, even outside the boundaries of their office. Businessmen and executives use the Internet to communicate with their people and run their companies. Needless to say, Internet access has become a vital component on the lives of every Filipino,” said Yap.

Areas to be provided with free public Internet access are buildings of national and local government offices, public basic education institutions, state universities and colleges (SUCs) and Tesda institutions.

Also covered by the bill are public libraries, parks and plazas; barangay reading centers; public hospitals and rural health units; and public transportation terminals such as airports, seaports, Metro Rail Transport (MRT)/Light Rail Transit (LRT) stations and public transport terminals.

Public-private participation is also being explored in the proposed bill. To promote an efficient and cost-effective delivery of the free Internet access for public places, the Department of ICT may partner with the private sector in the implementation of the program.

Further, the DICT is tasked to streamline the process of application, renewal, and release of permits and licenses needed for the construction of infrastructure in coordination with the concerned national and local government agencies.

The program will be funded through the Free Public Internet Access Fund under the management of the DICT. This fund shall be collected from Spectrum Users Fees collected by the National Telecommunications Commissions and other sources to be identified by the Department of Budget and Management.

The bicameral conference committee is co-chaired by Yap and Sen. Paolo “Bam” Aquino IV.

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