The free public WiFi bill which has been approved by Congress will not only make Internet services available to all Filipinos but will make sure that broadband services are faster and more efficient, according to Sen. Ralph Recto.
The bill is now headed to President Duterte’s table for his signature after both houses of Congress ratified the reconciled version hammered out by representatives of each chamber.
Recto said the bill does not only mandate the installation of free Internet access in public places and offices nationwide, it also requires Internet to be fast with a 2-Mbps speed.
He said the proposed Free Internet Access in Public Places Act mandates upstream reforms in the telecoms sector, which would result in the better delivery of what is now acknowledged as the third utility after power and water.
“In this bill are provisions that will improve Internet speed, better broadband services, slash the red tape that retards ICT growth,” Recto said.
“If we want a thousand Wi-Fi spots to bloom, we must cut the thicket of regulations choking its growth. This bill authorizes the declogging of administrative bottlenecks,” the senator explained.
He said the bill does away with “government permitting problems encountered by DICT contractors and telcos in putting up facilities.”
Under the approved bill, 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,” Recto said, citing one provision.
Recto said the bill also promotes fair competition and bars unfair business practices.
Under the bill, the DICT shall prohibit any unfair method of competition and exclusivity arrangements in favor of a single telecommunications entity, Recto explained.
“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,” he said.
The excess capacity of private sector partners may be offered to deliver supplemental Internet access service for a reasonable fee, Recto added.
The senator explained that to lower Internet costs, “private service providers are encouraged to exchange data traffic at domestic Internet protocol (IP) exchanges, which may be designated by the DICT.”
The bill requires the NTC to “provide minimum standards for quality of service, including but not limited to download speed, latency, packet loss, and jitter for public free Internet service.”
Another provision states that “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.”
Free WiFi hotspots will be installed in national and local government offices; public schools, including state universities and colleges; public hospitals and health centers; public parks, plazas, and libraries; and airports, seaports, and transport terminals.
By end of this year, it is projected that 13,024 sites covered by 18 Points of Presence in 1,489 towns and 145 will be up and running. Overall, the project aims to roll out 23,631 sites by 2018, expanding it fourfold 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.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this story stated that the mandated speed is 10 Mbps. This is the speed indicated in the version approved by the House of Representatives. However, the final version of the bicam panel set the speed at 2 Mbps. We apologize for the error.