A BILL seeking to require all public telecommunications entities and internet service providers to cover all unserved and underserved areas within three years has been refiled, a senator said on Wednesday.

Senate Bill No. 329, or The Better Internet Act, seeks to provide fast, reliable, secure and affordable internet to Filipinos all over the country.

“The internet has become a necessity as indispensable as electricity and water,” Senator Mary Grace S. Poe-Llamanzares said in a Wednesday statement. “We rely on it for health, education, business, governance and more.”

The bill directs public telecommunications entities, or companies that require a Congressional franchise, and internet service providers, which operate without a franchise, to adhere to minimum standards for connection, reception, pricing, and billing practices to uphold and protect consumer rights.

“Service providers must pick up and maintain an acceptable internet speed to boost connectivity across sectors and empower our people,” Ms. Poe said.

“Undoubtedly, the internet has become an essential tool to survive and thrive,” she noted. “We should therefore bolster public access to it.”

The National Telecommunications Commission will be tasked with enforcing providers’ compliance with internet speed, quality and consistency, as well as other coverage obligations.

Service providers are also encouraged to provide a higher internet speed to their customers. There is no minimum internet speed requirement for free internet service.

Noncompliance will result in a maximum fine of P2 million per count of violation. The penalty is 1-2% of a service provider’s annual gross income if it earns less than P10 million.

 “Ensuring access to fast and affordable internet connection is not only an option if we want our country and people to be competitive. It should be a priority,” Ms. Poe said.

According to the Speedtest Global Index, Manila, which has an average mobile internet speed of only 18.49 megabits per second, ranked 110th among 139 countries or territories in internet speed as of November 2020. It has the second slowest internet speed among the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan