Lawmakers: Internet, SMS should be classified as 'matters of public interest'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — For two party-list representatives, the internet and short messaging services (SMS) are "utilities imbued with public interest."

With this, Bayan Muna Representatives Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate initiated HB 6369 entitled "An Act expanding the powers of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), classifying Short Messaging Service and Internet services as utilities imbued with public interest and providing penalties therefor, amending R.A. No. 7925 otherwise known as the 'Public Telecommunications Policy Act of the Philippines' for its purpose."

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If passed, the bill will strengthen the powers of NTC, and uphold the internet and SMS as subject to public interest, owing to the "crucial role" they play in the society, "from media and information, entertainment, education, governance and the economy."

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"The bayanihan spirit has extended online where people send support for those affected by calamities and disasters, and government agencies use the internet for relevant alerts," the authors said in a joint statement.

Regulating internet, text messaging services

Even if Filipinos are considered SMS and internet savvy, the Philippines is still lagging behind in terms of internet speed.

A United Nations (UN) report also revealed total internet penetration is pegged at only 35 to 40 percent of the Philippines population, majority of the activity coming from urban centers.

Related: Slow PH Internet hurts businesses

Colmenares and Zarate blamed this on the lack of infrastructures to deliver reliable internet connections. The two also cited private telecommunications companies that would only construct "financially viable" facilities.

The party-list representatives said the expansion of NTC will give more teeth to the NTC when it comes to regulating internet and text messaging services, which is, at present, considered only as a "value-added service" and therefore is outside the jurisdiction of the Commission.

"This bill echoes the call of consumers that the government should lead the creation of a national telecommunications and internet infrastructure in order to interconnect the different islands of the country, which is a very monumental task and shall need government resources so it would cover areas unprofitable for the telecommunications companies to build its facilities," said the authors.