To create ‘new digital normal’, Congress urged to pass Open Access bill

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With Congress adjourning its session on Friday, June 5, an alliance of civil society groups has called on the immediate passage of the long-delayed Open Access bill once the legislature resumes work in July.

In a statement last Thursday, June 4, the “Better Broadband Alliance (BBA)” said the pending measure could help the country create a “new digital normal” in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We, the partners of the Better Broadband Alliance, are one with Sen. Ralph Recto, together with other legislators, in his call to close the ‘digital deficit’. Our coalition has long pushed for reliable and affordable Internet connectivity as a way to pursue digital transformation and economic inclusivity,” the group stated.

Some of the members of the BBA are Democracy.Net.PH, Internet Society Philippines Chapter, the Foundation for Media Alternatives, PCTA, and various foreign chambers of commerce.

The BBA said the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgency of passing the proposed legislation as the Internet has become an indispensable tool for conducting various activities online.

“We need an expansive broadband infrastructure in order to rebuild and create a new normal way of doing things — a ‘new digital normal,’” it said.

However, the BBA said a severe lack of infrastructure prevents the country from going digital. “Sadly, 40% of Filipinos are not yet connected and many communities struggle just to get a stable 3G signal, preventing our citizens from continuing their education, being productive amid mobility restrictions, and participating in the digital economy.”

The group said that while the National Broadband Plan and the Free Public Wi-Fi program have yet bear fruit, the government also needs to act in parallel on structural policy measures that will provide an incentive for market players to connect the unserved and underserved areas, as well as deliver reliable, usable, and affordable Internet to end-users.

“It is time for Congress to update analog-era laws and bring them to the Digital Age,” the BBA said.

Under Senate Bill No. 45 sponsored by Recto and House Bill No. 57 authored by Tarlac representative and House ICT committee chair Victor Yap, the “Open Access in Data Transmission” bill will:

  • Allow more and different types of players to build and operate broadband networks;
  • Promote infrastructure sharing for lower cost and efficient network deployment; and
  • Make spectrum management more transparent and equitable.

The bill, it noted, aims to change the market structure and encourage more players to build the necessary broadband infrastructure to connect schools, local hospitals, barangay halls and homes.

“The fate of this landmark legislation for Philippine digital connectivity rests in your hands. We need to pass this law now or forever suffer from poor Internet service, cripple the nation’s digital capabilities and competitiveness, and leave millions of unconnected Filipinos behind,” the BBA said.

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