De Lima files bill requiring telcos to give free access to gov’t websites

Sen. Leila M. de Lima has filed a measure requiring all public telecommunications companies to provide the general public, especially those in the far reaches of the country, free and easy access to all government websites.

Sen. Leila M. de Lima

De Lima filed Senate Bill (SB) No. 1852 requiring telecommunications firms to make it readily and fully accessible all integral government services to the public, including vital official forms and in scheduling their applications.

“With technology rapidly changing our social and economic landscape, it has now become imperative for the government to ride the tide of technological advancement in order to provide a more efficient, safer, and equitable public service,” she said.

“Catering to Filipino who have access to smartphones, this bill will connect each citizen to the vast catalogues of government information. Ordinary Filipinos will be empowered to be more critical and participative in the decision-making processes that shape our society,” she added.

Citing a 2014 Philippine study, the Philippines is said to be “experiencing a digital divide” where 66 percent of the middle to upper class being Internet users as compared to only 35 percent and 18 percent of the poor and very poor classes, respectively.

Although the “Free Internet Access in Public Places Act” has been passed in 2017, De Lima pointed out that there are still some people who do not enjoy free and easy access to Internet due to the geographic constraint, especially in the countryside.

“At present, not everyone is fortunate enough to experience this technological innovation,” De Lima, who chairs Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development, said.

She added that poverty consequentially denies the majority of the Filipino people the ability to connect to the Internet due to issues on proximity to telecommunication infrastructures and high service cost restrictions.

De Lima said that her proposed measure, to be known as the “Free Access to Government Websites Act,” envisions an empowered Filipino citizenry with full-access to integral and official government information in the Internet.

As such, under SB No. 1582, De Lima shared that the public can enjoy full and uninhibited access to government websites by telecommunications entities without being charged any fee or service cost.

To ease the burden of public telecommunication entities in the enforcement of the Act, De Lima proposed that the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) is mandated to assist government agencies in ensuring that their respective websites can be accessed with minimal data requirements.

In the proposed measure, any public telecommunications entity who is found to have violated the provisions of the law shall be punished with a fine of not less than P1-million but not more than P10-million and/or a suspension or revocation of its legislative franchise and other permits and licenses by the National Telecommunications Commission.

Meanwhile, Sen. Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV said competition can help lower the price and improve the quality of Internet service in the country.

“Nalulunod na nga sa taas ng presyo ng bilihin, pati Internet napakamahal dito sa atin. Mahal na nga, mabagal pa,” said Aquino, chairman of the Committee on Science and Technology. “We need more than three telcos to have a healthy competition. We should look at other countries aside from China.”

As chairman of the Committee on Science and Technology, Sen. Bam is currently working on Senate Bill No. 171 or the Open Access in Data Transmission Act of 2016. If enacted into law, Aquino said the will enable more players into and promote competition in the Internet industry.

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