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Free Wi-Fi For All: What A wonderful Thing It Would Be

BY JAIME PIMENTEL – ALLOW me to digress from this column’s old folks theme.

I couldn’t help being caught up with the excitement over the latest announcement by Secretary Mario Montejo of the Philippines’ Department of Science and Technology about a plan to roll out free-for-all public Wi-Fi Internet access across the archipelago from July this year.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but if the plan is finally fulfilled,  the Philippines becomes the world’s market leader in providing Internet access to its citizens.

Think about it: The country is already among the world leaders in the digital revolution. My Filipino connection adds: “But narrowing the digital divide in a way that would provide access to every Filipino, wherever in the world he or she might be, is the ultimate challenge.”

The Philippines has an advanced mobile market when compared to other similar countries, he said.

“Half of the population subscribes to mobile services, 3G penetration is relatively high at just under 40 percent, smart phone adoption is rapidly growing, and Internet penetration is increasing at the fastest rate of any country in Asia with the vast majority of new users coming online via mobile.”

Secretary Montejo reportedly said he would use existing government assets such unused dark fibre of the national power grid, MRT and LRT transmission lines, and TELOF microwave facilities to set up a broadband backbone for government use.

But in a newspaper piece, columnist Boo Chanco was a bit dismissive about the plan. “It is a good concept,” Chanco writes. “But don’t get your hopes up just yet. Note this is free, and is a government project.”

My connection writes: The country’s unprecedented push to provide education to the masses will directly be accelerated by this free Wi-Fi project.

“It is the first step towards eventually having a communication service that eventually will be fast, reliable and free.

“Connectivity is now as essential to life as power and water, but the only excuse I can think of why it should be available and free is that it facilitates the exercise of our democratic rights.

“Internet connectivity in this age of social media supports free speech and forces transparency in government. Social media is the new Plaza Miranda, the new Hyde Park that empowers citizens as it makes participation in governance easy.”

Senior citizens like me would especially welcome free-for-all Wi-Fi. Most especially those retired old geezers like myself who likes to carry a mini ipad to public parks and playing fields where grandchildren play football, netball or whatever on weekends.

Someone please ask our Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull to hurry up and beat Secretary Montejo to the line.