Philippine Congress approves free Wi-Fi bill

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  • The House of Representatives in the Philippines has approved on second reading a bill which seeks to address the country’s problem of inter-connectivity by providing free wireless access points in all major public places.

    House Bill 5225 or the proposed “Free Public Wi-Fi Act” mandates the government, including local government units (LGUs) and government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs), to install broadband hotspots in public areas that will provide a stable and reliable wireless internet connection at all times, thereby encouraging discourse and trade in internet-related goods, services, and content.

    Areas to be provided with broadband hotspots are all buildings of national government offices, including their regional and satellite offices, provincial capitols, and city and municipal halls; public primary and secondary schools; and buildings of state universities and colleges (SUCs).

    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 bus terminals.

    Approval on second reading of proposed legislation in the House of Representatives constitutes substantive approval. The third and final reading of a bill is a ceremonial act.

    Representative  Gus Tambunting (2nd District, Parañaque City), one of the authors of the measure, said currently, the available free Wi-Fi is very limited and enacting a law that will ensure free Wi-Fi for all will guarantee people from all walks of life free access and equal opportunity to learn, earn, and discover what the web has to offer.

    Representative Marlyn Primicias-Agabas (6th District, Pangasinan), another author, said the vital role of the internet in information cannot be denied as it serves as the backbone of technology which is the dominant platform of development nowadays.

    Representative Bernadette Herrera-Dy (Party-list, BAGONG HENERASYON), also an author, said free wireless internet connection will ensure that the populace will be equipped with and honed to using key faculties needed to build an innovative, progressive, and rapidly digitizing economy.

    The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) will provide the internet connectivity necessary to comply with the provisions of the Act.

    In cases where the DICT is unable to provide internet connectivity, said hotspots shall be made available using initially the services of existing commercial internet service providers (ISPs).

    The DICT shall ensure that the minimum internet speed is 10 megabits per second (Mbps).

    The DICT shall also lead in the promotion and implementation of the government’s information and communications technology (ICT) industry development program which shall include the formulation of enabling policies and ensuring the establishment and maintenance of a national broadband infrastructure.

    The bill further states that internet connection to any of the broadband hotspots in the designated public places shall not be restricted with passwords.

    Only in cases where there is clear and present security or technical risk that cannot be remedied through normal technical solutions shall the administration or management of public broadband hotspots limit access to the network through the use of passwords. These passwords can be provided to the public only upon request.

    No fees shall be collected from users to connect to the internet using the public broadband hotspots or the free public Wi-Fi network.

    The government shall respect the privacy of citizens who use the public broadband hotspots, the bill provides.

    It further states that in no case shall the administration or management of said public broadband hotspots engage in the collection, use, or disclosure of user data, including the collection of anonymous traffic data, in accordance with existing law.

    The committee on information and communications technology chaired by Representative Victor Yap (2nd District, Tarlac) endorsed the bill for plenary approval. The bill is among the legislative priorities of the House and the Senate this 17th Congress.

    Other authors of the bill are Yap, Representatives Geraldine Roman (1st District, Bataan), Sarah Jane Elago (Party-list, KABATAAN), Vilma Santos-Recto (6th District, Batangas), Teddy Brawner Baguilat, Jr. (Lone District, Ifugao), Ann Hofer (2nd District, Zamboanga Sibugay), Henry Ong (2nd District, Leyte), Rose Marie Arenas (3rd District, Pangasinan), Aniceto Bertiz III (Party-list, ACTS-OFW), Jose Enrique Garcia III (2nd District, Bataan), Francis Gerald Abaya (1st District, Cavite), Micaela Violago (2nd District, Nueva Ecija), Enrico Pineda (Party-list, 1-PACMAN), Maria Cristina Roa-Puno (1st District, Antipolo City), Dakila Carlo Cua (Lone District, Quirino) and Mariano Michael Velarde Jr. (Party-list, BUHAY).

    The Senate has to pass a counterpart bill regarding internet access, before a final version is signed by the President of the Philippines

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