P1.76B earmarked for free Wi-Fi in proposed 2017 budget

MANILA, Philippines – The proposed 2017 budget of the newly created Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) includes P1.76 billion for free Wi-Fi in public areas.

In a statement on Saturday, September 3, Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto said the amount for 2017 is P107 million higher than the P1.65 billion allotted for the "Free Internet Connectivity in Public Places" project in 2016. 

"With the proposed funding, the project, which aims to provide free broadband internet access to 1,462 towns and 44 key cities nationwide, is sustained," Recto was quoted as saying.

If the P1.76-billion budget is approved, the senator added, it "would bring to P4.81 billion the amount allocated for the project since 2015."

Last year, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) launched 6 pilot free Wi-Fi hotspots in Metro Manila – the Quezon Memorial Circle, Quezon City Hall, Philcoa, Social Security System, Land Transportation Office, and Rizal Park.

Based on a DOST report sent to Recto in May 2016, said the senator, more hotspots are being set up:

No time frame for completion of the new hotspots was indicated in the senator's statement.

The sites covered by the project include "selected airports, hospitals, public schools, plazas, seaports, government offices, and other public places."

"We would like these Wi-Fi hotspots to create value, promote education, help trade and travel, cut red tape in public offices, and be a lifeline to those who are in distress," Recto said.

For instance, the senator added, offering free Wi-Fi in government offices which "draw the longest queues and the largest crowds" would be a huge help.

"If you're at the NSO at may problema ka sa birth certificate mo, kung may access doon, puwede mong i-Viber ang kailangan pang dokumento," he said.

(If you're at the National Statistics Office and you encounter a problem with your birth certificate, if there's free Wi-Fi access there, you can just use Viber for other required documents.)

Recto had filed the first free public Wi-Fi bill in 2014, and has refiled it in the current 17th Congress. He was also the principal sponsor of the law that created the DICT. (READ: 'Make Internet a basic service in PH')

Aside from Recto, Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV filed a bill pushing for free internet in all public schools in the Philippines, while Senator Francis Pangilinan has a separate measure seeking free Wi-Fi in "government offices, parks, state colleges and universities, hospitals, transport terminals, among others." (READ: Free Wi-Fi nationwide: A rundown of government initiatives)

In President Rodrigo Duterte's first State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 25, he had also promised Filipinos fast and free Wi-Fi in most public areas.

Duterte said he ordered the DICT "to develop a national broadband plan to accelerate the deployment of fiber optic cables and wireless technology to improve internet speed."

In the 2015 State of Broadband report, the Philippines ranked 106th out of 191 countries, with 39.7% of individuals using the internet.

Last July 13, days before the President's SONA, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) had signed an agreement with PLDT subsidiary Smart to provide free Wi-Fi in 21 major transportation hubs within 100 days, which would be by late October.

The transportation hubs covered in the deal include the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) terminals 1, 2, 3, 4, as well as the airports in Davao, Iloilo, Bacolod, Dumaguete, Kalibo, Laguindingan, General Santos, Clark, Laoag, Cebu, Aklan, and Zamboanga.

Smart's free Wi-Fi service will also be available for both lines of the Light Rail Transit (LRT1 and LRT2), the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT3), as well as the Batangas and Mindoro ports. – Rappler.com