By Lucia Edna P. de Guzman

Senate passes bills on free Wi-Fi, college education

Posted on March 14, 2017

THE BILLS for free Wi-Fi access in public places and free college education were among the key bills the Senate passed on third and final reading on Monday.

“The truth is, mass Wi-Fi services form part of the Information Communication Technology (ICT) solutions which can ease the pain caused by the many problems we confront today, if not make them totally go away,” said Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph G. Recto in the plenary yesterday.

Mr. Recto is among the authors of Senate Bill (SB) No. 1277 or the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act, along with Senators Francis N. Pangilinan, Emannuel D. Pacquiao, Paolo Benigno A. Aquino IV and Joel V. Villanueva. It was sponsored in the plenary by Mr. Aquino, as chair of the Senate committee on science and technology, and co-sponsored by Mr. Recto and Senator Grace Poe.

The bill was approved with 18 affirmative votes and no negative vote or abstention.

“Overall, the aim is to roll out 23,631 [Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT)-maintained Wi-Fi spots] by 2018, expanding it four-fold to 100,349 by 2026,” Mr. Recto said.

The government-run free Wi-Fi spots would be set up in public hospitals, schools, mass rapid transit (MRT) stations and municipal halls.

Mr. Recto also said in part: “[I]t is hoped that big government investments in free Wi-Fi spots would nudge forward the upstream reforms in the telecoms sector we all would like to see.”

The Free Higher Education for All Act or SB no. 1304, was also approved with 18 affirmative votes.

Among the authors of the bill were Messrs. Aquino, Recto, and Villanueva, together with fellow Senators Juan Edgardo M. Angara, Leila M. De Lima, Sherwin T. Gatchalian, Joseph Victor G. Ejercito, Richard J. Gordon, Loren B. Legarda, Francis N. Pangilinan, Cynthia A. Villar, and Juan Miguel F. Zubiri.

“More than an explanation of my vote, I would just like to thank the individuals and groups that have come together to support this very important measure providing free tuition fee for our State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) and even scholarships for our private sector higher education institutions,” said Mr. Aquino, who sponsored the bill as former chair of the Senate committee on education.

Mr. Aquino noted that among the senators who have co-authored and introduced amendments to the bill, Messrs. Recto and Gatchalian have been working on the measure even prior to the current Senate session.

For his part, Mr. Gatchalian, who is currently vice chair of the committee of education, said: “This will ensure that the SUC system will continue to carry out its primary mission: to provide quality and accessible education to Filipinos from marginalized sectors.”

Also passed in the Senate is a bill declaring Aug. 25 as National Tech-Voc Day in a bid to promote technical and vocational education and training.