Press Release
March 13, 2017

'If Internet Access is a Human Right, WiFi is a Basic Public Service'
Recto: Explanation of Vote on Free Public Wi-Fi
SB 1277: Free Internet Access in Public Places Act
Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph G. Recto
13 March 2017

It is my pleasure to finally vote on a bill which I first filed in May 2014.

Although the Free National Wi-Fi Project is now in full swing by virtue of another legislative route--through three General Appropriations Acts, including this year's--still the best way to guarantee its continuation is through a charter.

As we speak, DICT-maintained Wi-Fi spots are mushrooming all over the country.

By end of the year, it is projected that 13,024 sites covered by 18 Points of Presence in 1,489 towns and 145 cities are up and running.

The funding came from the P4.8 billion appropriated since 2015.

To firewall this public service from being knocked down by changing political winds--to prevent the plug from being pulled--the passage of this bill is required.

More so that much remains to be done. For this year and next, 1,880 public elementary schools, 2,688 public high schools, and 682 state colleges are targeted for connection.

Overall, the aim is to roll out 23,631 sites by 2018, expanding it four-fold to 100,349 by 2026.

When it was conceived, government-run free Wi-Fi hotspots were meant for social good, and not for the sole purpose of allowing anyone to post unli-Instagram photos or selfies on FB.

That they will be set up in public hospitals so that if you're the son of an OFW in Italy, you can update your mom, via Viber, on the recovery of a loved one who has been stricken ill. Or if the hospital staff would like to transmit a patient's data, then there's a facility for that.

That they will be set up in schools to enrich learning so that both teachers and students could tap into the infinite sources of knowledge available online.

That they will be set up in MRT stations so you can message your hot date with sad emoticons that you will be late because one of the last straggling coaches of MRT has broken down again.

That they will be set up in municipal halls so that if you're applying for a license or permit in one of the offices, and you forgot to bring one requirement, a photocopy can be immediately emailed to you.

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.

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."

Yes, trolls, fake news purveyors, and manufacturers of weapons of mass distractions ride on the same technology platform, but the damage to individual brains or collective consciousness they inflict is far smaller than the greater good that ICT brings.

For every troll farm, there are millions of farmers whose lives have been made better by ICT.

The truth is, mass Wi-Fi services form part of the ICT solutions which can ease the pain caused by the many problems we confront today, if not make them totally go away.

In the same way that need is the mother of invention, or demand ushers in efficiency, or mass use triggers innovation, it is hoped that big government investments in free Wi-Fi spots would nudge forward the upstream reforms in the telecoms sector we all would like to see.

And in this bill are provisions that will improve Internet speed, better broadband services, slash the red tape that retards ICT growth.

If we want a thousand Wi-Fi spots to bloom, we must cut the thicket of regulations choking its growth.

Permitting problems encountered by DICT contractors and telcos in putting up facilities must be ended in one declogging sweep of administrative bottlenecks.

Permit me to cite a few which this bill prescribes:

  • 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 payment of the corresponding fees.

  • The DICT shall prohibit any unfair methods of competition and exclusivity arrangements in favor of a single telecommunications entity.

  • The DICT, in coordination with the National Telecommunications Commission, shall be allowed the use of available and unassigned spectrum for the Free Public Internet Access Program.

  • The excess capacity of private sector partners may be offered to deliver supplemental internet access service for a reasonable fee.

  • To lower costs, increase and improve the free internet access for public spaces, private service providers are encouraged to exchange data traffic at domestic internet protocol (IP) exchanges, which may be designated by the DICT.

  • The NTC shall provide minimum standards for quality of service, including but not limited to download speed, latency, packet loss, and jitter for public free internet service.

  • 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.

All of this must be done because the benchmark in gauging effectivity is not just the number of Wi-Fi spots, but also Internet speed.

If Internet access is a human right, then Wi-Fi is a basic public service. But for it to become one, the hindrances which bar its full enjoyment by the people must first be removed.

Paano ang bawat Juan magiging konektado, kung ang mga regulasyon ay magulo?

In closing, I would like to thank Senator Bam, the better Aquino, for his expert shepherding of this bill.

I vote yes to this measure.

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