A quick glance around you out in the town will most likely see plenty of people with mobile devices – smartphones or tablets – who are most likely using the internet to send messages, read stories, or watch streaming media. Internet cafes are also abundant. But despite the seeming common usage of the internet the actual truth is that as of 2016 only less than half of the Filipino population has easy access to the internet. This could change very soon however, when the effects of the new law that President Rodrigo Duterte has signed will soon see most, if not all, public places in the country being given free access online.
CNN Philippines reports that just this Wednesday August 2, President Duterte signed Republic Act 10929 into law. This is the Free Public Internet Access Program, designed to spur the development and installation of free Wi-Fi internet in public places throughout the Philippines. Ad defined by the law, “public places” would include government offices, state universities, public parks, government hospitals and several other locations. The original bill was principally sponsored by Senator Bam Aquino, who is interested in seeing public schools getting free Wi-Fi like a number of private educational institutions now, saying that such levels of online access would be a great enhancement to learning.
To fund the expansion of public Wi-Fi, RA 10929 will be relying on a new Free Public Internet Access Fund that has been opened by the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT). Sen. Aquino has also included a provision in the bill-turned-law that will allow for faster issuance of permits where internet infrastructure is concerned. This aid in the development of public online infrastructure would help in bringing the internet to more people in the Philippines. As estimated by the International Communications Union, net access is guaranteed only to 44 million Filipinos, which is just 43.5% of the entire population.
Among the parties in the legislature who has expressed approval and support for the new law is the Kabataan Party List. They see the Free Public Internet Access Program as a means for the general public to be freed from the necessary dependency on profit-based internet infrastructure. Here the Kabataan PL also called for greater scrutiny on the current national “duopoly” of the major telecoms Globe and PLDT-Smart.
Seeing the Philippines being given public Wi-Fi access is easier said than done, considering that net monitoring groups have noted that the country has the lowest internet speed in a survey of Asia-Pacific nations. If the public is expected to patronize any free Wi-Fi, it had best be fast.