THE House of Representatives passed on final reading on Tuesday, June 9, House Bill (HB) 5791, or the proposed Free Public Wifi Act.

The bill seeks to provide free Internet connectivity in buildings of all national government offices, including its regional and satellite offices, in municipal halls and in provincial Capitols, in state universities and colleges, in public parks and plazas, in public hospitals and even in public transportation terminals such as airports and public bus stations.

Kabataan party-list Representative Terry Ridon, the bill's main proponent, said HB 5791 aims to move government one step forward in providing democratic access to the Internet.

"The issue of the mass accessibility and availability of personal electronic devices that people have to use in order to access public networks, government has to recognize that the Internet is an important mechanism in delivering some of its services, and a valuable tool for people's participation in governance and in democracy," Ridon said in his explanatory note.

Ridon said that before the House ICT committee approved the bill, panel members added key provisions on 24/7 stability and reliability of the public broadband hotspots, and a provision that will prohibit administrators and managers of public broadband hotspots from collecting user data and even Internet traffic data from people who will connect to the public Wi-Fi network.

He said that another notable provision of the proposed measure is the absence of restrictions with regard to public Wifi access, in the form of passwords and other similar mechanisms.

"The bill has been warmly received by members of the ICT committee, with most of our colleagues even co-authoring the Free Public Wi-Fi bill. We thank ICT Committee Chair Joel Duavit for the speedy passage of this legislation," Ridon said.

Earlier, the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines endorsed the proposed bill, saying a law that will make free Wi-Fi available in "crowded urban areas" can be considered a valuable public sector contribution.

"Higher Internet penetration will bring a wealth of benefits to Filipinos and efficiencies for the economy, reducing business costs and helping the economy to become more competitive and meet its Millennium Development Goals," the group said. (Sunnex)