Free Internet access bill draws support from private sector

By , on June 4, 2014

EKS / ShutterStock
EKS / ShutterStock

MANILA — A Senate bill providing free Wi-Fi access in public places in Metro Manila drew support from the private sector including the country’s leading telecommunication companies.

”We really support the measure. We do not see negative impact for so long as there would be an agreement between private telcos and government on the use of the facilities,” Joel Pinera of legal department of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone (PLDT) Co. said in a Senate hearing on Senate Bill 2232 or Free Metro Manila WiFi Act of 2014 on Tuesday.

Derek Lim, senior legal counsel of GlobeTelecom, Inc., said they support the proposed bill “because it is good for our country and people.”

Lim, however, expressed reservation on the Section 5 of the bill which provides: “these hotspots will be made available using initially the services of existing commercial Internet service providers until such time that the national broadband system has been installed.”

”How long that initial period would be? If the IPS will provide Internet infrastructures, will there be exemption from taxes?,” Lim asked Senate committee on science and technology chairman, Senator Ralph Recto.

Recto, author of the free WiFi bill, promised to include the Globe’s concerns in the technical working group (TWG) discussion.

”Our business model in the Philippines is that we will leave it to the private sector the operation and maintenance and not to compete with the private sector,” Recto said.

Louis Napoleon Casambre, Department of Science and Technology (DOST) undersecretary for Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO), said Recto’s bill is ‘doable and implementable’ project.

”The Internet or broadband connectivity has been proven worldwide to be a key driver for economic growth,” Casambre said.

In fact, Casambre said the ICTO has proposed similar free Internet access under the DOST’s 2014 budget proposal.

Casambre supported Recto’s proposal to give to the private sector the maintenance and operation of the proposed free WiFi connectivity to the private sector.

Under the bill, the free Internet in Metro Manila can be accessible in all government buildings; health centers and hospitals; public schools; parks; airports; libraries; tollways and expressways; Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) and other national roads; transport terminals; ports; and Light Rail Transit, Metro Rail Transit and Philippine National Railway stations.

While calling it a doable project in Metro Manila, Casambre said installing free Internet connectivity in rural areas specially in the fourth to six class municipalities entails big budget due to limited infrastructures.

”Based on Department of Education statistics, only 17 percent of the 38,596 public elementary schools are areas with Internet connectivity. There is a challenge of infrastructures connectivity,” Casambre said.

The Bloggers and Netizens for Democracy (BAND) and Infocomm Technology Association of the Philippines (ITAP) also supported the measure but urged Recto to include provisions that would protect free WiFi from misuses and abuses.

”There is a temptation to abuse free services. There should be safeguards with regard to the misuse and abuses as it might be used to attack people and government infrastructure. We support the bill but details should be threshed out,” Toby Purisima of BAND legal department said.

Recto promised to address the concerns but urged the public to “focus on the positive” side of the measure.

”Any technology can be used for good and for bad purpose. It’s like a cellphone, it can be used to harm people but it has more positive benefits,” Recto said.

Recto has said the free Internet access in Metro Manila would attract more tourists and more economic activities.

Aside from SB 2232, the Senate panel also tackled Senate Bill 2124 or ICT Education Act of 2014 which aims to provide more efficient learning by equipping public schools with computers and WiFi to be at par with private schools.

”These twin measures highlight the importance of ensuring broader access to computer-based learning and internet to bridge the digital divide,” Recto said.