Free WiFi Access in Metro Manila Public Schools, Train Stations, Airports, and National Roads, Proposed via Senate Bill 2232

Last October 2013, the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) disclosed in a report that the internet penetration rate in the Philippines has ballooned to 36% from a mere 2% back in 2000. Simply put, this means that - as of that month - 36% of the population have already established their presence online. And looking at the results of the study, it's clear that Pinoys' demand for internet access will continue to grow exponentially in the coming years.

The problem is, despite the fact that more and more of us are logging on and experiencing the benefits of the web, consistent internet access continues to be elusive to a lot of Filipinos -- most especially the financially disadvantaged.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Senator Ralph Recto felt an urge and deemed it best to file Senate Bill 2232 or the Free Metro Manila Wifi Act of 2014 mandating the government to provide free Wireless Internet connection or WiFi in all public buildings and national roads across National Capital Region.

Free Wifi Metro Manila, Free WiFi Philippines, Free WiFi NCR

"Public Buildings and National Roads" include all National and Local Government Offices; Public Health Centers and Hospitals; Public Elementary and High Schools, and State Colleges and Universities; Public Parks; Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Terminals I, II, III, and IV); Public Libraries; Tollways and Expressways (North Luzon Exressway, South Luzon Expressway, Metro Manila Skyway, and Manila-Cavite Expressway); Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) and other National Roads; Public Transport Terminals; Port of Manila; and Rail Transit Stations (LRT Line 1, MRT Line 2, MRT Line 3, and PNR Southrail.)

Why should the Philippine government provide free WiFi access in these locations? And where will the government get the funds to make this happen, you ask? Well, apart from the Filipinos' growing demand to go online, Senator Recto shared that "For the Philippines to further establish itself as an emerging economy, a public broadband internet infrastructure must be in place beginning with NCR." As for the funding, it will come from the public coffer -- any available funds of the NTC, to be specific.

In his explanatory note for Senate Bill 2232, Senator Ralph Recto said, "Similar to the relevance of roads and bridges in stimulating economic activity and in fueling the Philippine economy, so too is the effect of a broadband infrastructure. Connectivity to the internet will enhance business growth opportunities and will assure citizens in NCR ease of sourcing timely information at the click of a button. [...] Providing free internet access to public buildings and facilities in the national capital will also ensure that our growing labor force will be updated with employment opportunities."

He added, "Free wireless internet connection will ensure that the populace beginning in the capital will be equipped with and honed to using key faculties needed to build an innovative, progressive, and rapidly digitizing economy. Allowing free wireless internet access in key public places in NCR means providing access to the underserved in our society, including getting low income people online. Connectivity must be provided to residents and visitors of the capital, providing them access to critical information anytime from educational information for students in our public schools, traffic situations and alternative routes for motorists plying the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) and other national highways, latest weather advisories disseminated through social media, prime commodity price fluctuations such as that of oil and gas, updates on government services such as issuances of documents, to transparency initiatives of the government."

TP Thoughts: TP Friends, there are already a number of Asian cities - including Taipei, Singapore City, Seoul, Bangalore, and Tokyo - where the government provides free public WiFi access to locals and tourists. It's been done by other counties and I'm confident that we can also do it. I think that if this bill gets passed into law, it will be a big leap forward in empowering the Filipino people in the capital with all the benefits of internet access and it will definitely send the right signals to our neighboring countries and trade partners across the world that the Philippines is serious about growing and digitizing its economy in this modern landscape. Off hand, I'm just concerned about the funding - if it will be enough - and in case it pushes through, if the chosen network provider will be able to deliver consistent, fast, and reliable connection to every Pinoy who logs on. But then - as the old adage goes, "If there's a will, there's a way."

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