P2.5B set to boost free internet in public places

Photo Courtesy of Rappler

The national government is spending another P2.5 billion to install additional access points where Filipinos can enjoy password-free internet Wi-Fi connectivity using their mobile devices, Quezon City Rep. Marvin Rillo, House appropriations committee member, said on Monday.

The P2.5 billion in fresh funding for the Free Public Internet Access Program (FPIAP) in the 2023 national budget would enable the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) to further expand the country’s network of government-sponsored open Wi-Fi hotspots, according to Rillo.

“This time, we are counting on the DICT to speed up the rollout of free Wi-Fi hotspots to make up for previous delays,” Rillo, also House information and communications technology committee member, said.

The past holdups were largely due to the fact that the DICT was established only in 2016, and initially lacked staff to oversee the FPIAP’s implementation.

“We desperately need more physical locations where Filipinos who cannot afford internet at home can benefit from a free Wi-Fi connection, and use it to access public services, look for gainful employment, or download learning materials,” Rillo said.

Free Wi-Fi hotspots are particularly helpful, considering that 73 percent of Filipinos use their mobile phones to access the internet, Rillo pointed out.

The DICT has so far put up 4,518 sites nationwide that provide free Wi-Fi hotspots to the public as of June 29, 2022. The DICT website (https://freepublicwifi.gov.ph/livehotspots/) provides the exact locations of these hotspots.

The bulk of the P2.5 billion in new funding for the FPIAP would be spent on free Wi-Fi hotspots in public places, while P50.7 million would be disbursed exclusively for improved connectivity in the country’s 116 state universities and colleges, Rillo said.

Rillo said the money for the FPIAP is being sourced from the “spectrum user fees” collected by the National Telecommunications Commission every year from telecommunications service providers and constituted into the Free Public Internet Access Fund.

Under Republic Act No. 10929, or the Free Internet Access in Public Places Law of 2017, the DICT, through the FPIAP, is mandated to provide free internet connectivity in public places.

The law specifies these “public places” as airports, seaports, and public transport terminals; public parks and plazas; public libraries and barangay reading centers; public hospitals, health centers and rural health units; and public schools as well as public higher education institutions, including technical-vocational training centers.