MANILA (UPDATED) - A House panel on Thursday approved on first reading a bill aiming to provide free Wi-Fi in public areas around the country.
The House Committee on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) approved House Bill (HB) 5225, the “Free Public Wi-Fi Act,” in substitution of House Bills 515, 616, 1954, 1957, 2846, 3055, and 3250.
"We hope to get approval [for HB 5225] ng 2nd reading next week…it is a priority bill. The president and the DICT (Department of Information and Communications Technology) have agreed to put up a backbone for this," said Tarlac 2nd District Rep. Victor Yap, chairman of the ICT committee, in an interview with ABS-CBN News.
The bill aims to provide free wireless Internet connection in national government offices, public schools, state universities and colleges, public libraries, parks and plazas, barangay centers, public hospitals and rural health centers, and public transportation terminals.
The wireless access points will be installed through the DICT, or through partnerships with private Internet service providers.
If passed into law, the bill will mandate a minimum Internet speed of 10 megabits per second (Mbps), which the law targets to provide in public areas within 2 years from the law’s its effectivity.
It is crucial for Internet bandwidth to be at least 10 Mbps because it will be useless if connection is slow, Yap said in a statement. He touted the benefits of free public Wi-Fi such as economic development, tourism, and use in information dissemination during disaster relief operations.
Reassuring those who are concerned about cybersecurity, Yap said in an interview with ABS-CBN News that the government, particularly the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), is "very active in terms of developing security."
Last year, the Department of Science and Technology said that 93% of the country may have access to free wireless Internet by this year.
The ICT Office asked for a budget of P3.2 billion for this year to fund the free Wi-Fi service, more than half of the current total budget allocated for the agency of P5 billion.
In the 2015 General Appropriations Act, the project had a total budget of P1.408 billion.
Free Internet access and improved connection speed was one of President Rodrigo Duterte's promises in his inaugural State of the Nation Address.
On Thursday, global tech company Akamai Technologies said the Philippines has the slowest Internet speed in the Asia Pacific region.
Average connection speed grew 44% in 2016 to 4.5 Mbps, but it still ranked among the slowest in the region, led by South Korea with 26.1 Mbps, according to Akamai's State of the Internet Report.