Nationwide Free Wifi in the Philippines

The Philippines plans to offer free Wi-Fi services to half of its towns and cities this year and nationwide coverage by end-2016, according to a report by Bloomberg.
The free Internet service will cost the government about P1.5 billion ($32 million) a year and will be available in areas such as public schools, hospitals, airports and parks, said Monchito Ibrahim, deputy executive director of the Information and Communications Technology Office.

“If subscribers move to using free public Wi-Fi, telecoms may need to lure them into getting higher-end services,” Ibrahim said, referring to the country’s two main phone companies. The government’s “focus is on areas that absolutely don’t have access.”

The new service is expected to push data charges lower in the Philippines. Access to the Internet costs about $18 a megabit per second in the country, more than three times the global average of $5, according to research firm International Data Corp. or IDC.

For the country’s two biggest phone companies, that means more expenses to boost their network for services offering higher speeds.

The government’s free Wi-Fi service has its limitations. Speed is capped at 256 kilobits per second, enough for basic Internet searches or access to Facebook, Ibrahim said. The government’s initiative comes as lawmakers investigate slow and expensive Internet connection in the Philippines, where broadband connectivity is only ahead of Afghanistan in Asia, according to IDC.

By contrast, Singapore started a free wireless service in 2006 that now offers speeds of as much as 2 megabits per second — eight times faster than the one planned in the Philippines. That’s enough for phone calls on the data network or video streaming, with the access offered at public places such as the airport, malls, hospitals and schools.

While offering free Wi-Fi access is a step forward, what the country needs is a longer-term plan to improve Internet connectivity, Senator Bam Aquino, who heads the Senate trade and commerce committee, said last month. “What I’m looking for is really a major broadband plan,” he said.


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