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DICT Philippines holding series of public consultations on implementation of Free Internet Access in Public Places Act

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) is going to hold a series of public consultations on the proposed Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act.

President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Republic Act (RA) No. 10929 into law in August 2017. The Programme seeks to enable access to education, health and employment opportunities, as well as online government services for Filipinos, especially those living in the countryside, who have limited or no access to the Internet.

The first consultation on October 24 in Quezon city will be attended by representatives from various stakeholder groups, including government agencies (NGAs and LGUs), ICT organizations, telecommunications service providers and the academe, among others. This will be followed by a series of regional consultations in Davao City (October 26), Iloilo City (November 6) and Baguio City (November 9).  

Under the Programme, the minimum Internet speed per user is two megabits per second (2Mbps) or as prescribed by the National Broadband Plan (NBP), whichever is higher.

The list of public places to be covered by this Act includes, but is not limited to: a. National and local government offices; b. Public basic education institutions; c. State universities and colleges and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) technology institutions; d. Public hospitals, health centers, and rural health units; Public parks, plazas, libraries, and barangay reading centers; f. Public airports, and seaports; and g. Public transport terminals.

The DICT shall set standards and qualifications in determining which public places shall be included and prioritised for the rollout of the Programme.

The DCIT has been designated the lead implementing agency. National government agencies (NGAs), local government units (LGUs), private sector and concerned organizations, headed by the DICT, shall ensure the successful implementation of the programme.

Within one year from the effectivity of RA 10929, the DICT will develop a comprehensive plan for timely and effective implementation and propagation. DICT will undertake the creation, establishment, installation, maintenance, and operation of infrastructure, equipment, systems, platforms, applications, and other requirements necessary to effectively provide free Internet access in public places throughout the country.

DICT will also train its personnel, and institute accounting and fiscal practices for the operation of the program, including in instances where the operations of the Programme are outsourced to a qualified private party. DICT is also supposed to prescribe regulations or subscribe to acceptable standards in the installation, construction, maintenance, and operation of infrastructure and equipment.

A direct link to the National Government Portal will be made available in the Programme, so that citizens can access government services online or through Government Service Centers, such as but not limited to Tech4ED Centers, that are connected to the Programme. Tech4ED or Technology for Education, Employment, Entrepreneurs, and Economic Development Project is a digital inclusion initiative, aimed at providing affordable or free-of-charge access for citizens in rural and underserved areas to various communication resources, with focus on the Internet.

Internet Technology Solution Providers’ (ITSPs) excess capacity may be offered as a supplemental internet access service in addition to the free internet service offered by the DICT. However, the grant of exclusivity arrangements to a single ITSP is prohibited.

The DICT, in coordination with the NTC (National Telecommunications Commission), shall rationalise and optimise the use of spectrum, including the utilisation of spectrum for purposes of this Programme.

Within one year from effectivity of RA 10929, the NTC shall issue rules on minimum standards for quality of service, including, but not limited to, download speed, latency, packet loss, and jitter for public free internet service. The minimum quality of service standards for the Program shall not be lower than the minimum quality of service standards provided for retail basic internet connectivity services offered to the public and the agreed quality of service as specified in their contract with the DICT.

The DICT shall periodically collect, update, and publish such information on the cost, performance, service quality, and compliance with the minimum standards on free public internet access points set by the NTC.

The IRR also mentions privacy safeguards. The administrator or manager of the Programme are not allowed to engage in the collection, use, or disclosure of users’ personal data, which includes personal, sensitive, and privileged information, and the collection of anonymous traffic data, unless allowed by the “Data Privacy Act of 2012” and other applicable laws.

The DICT, NTC, and the DILG (Department of Interior and Local Government) are supposed to streamline the process for the application, renewal and release of permits and licenses, and clearances needed for the construction of infrastructure or installation of equipment through issuance of the necessary rules and policies.

The DILG shall be responsible for monitoring the compliance of concerned LGUs with the requirements of the Program. Initial issuances and agreements necessary to facilitate the implementation of the streamlined process shall be issued or released within three months from the effectivity of the Act. Failure on the part of the issuing agency to release the applied license without informing the applicant business entity of the errors, omissions, or additional documents required shall mean automatic approval of the license or permit applied for within seven days after submission of the applicant business entity of the complete requirements and payment of the corresponding fees.

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