So, there’s a new law being pushed for free Wi-Fi

Of course there is, there’s always some random law being pushed by politicians.

The first thing that came to my mind was: that’ll be the slowest free Wi-Fi ever.

We all know by now that the Philippines have one of the slowest Internet speeds in the ASEAN region. So it is pretty hilarious to think that we’re going to be one of the few countries in the region that has free Wi-Fi everywhere. I mean what will it open, the banner of Facebook?

Before we even think of setting up free Wi-Fi, there are some things we need to take care of first.

It sounds like such a first world problem to even think that we need faster Internet but we kind of do. Well in this day and age we need to have the infrastructure, both physical and not, in order to compete.

One of the biggest complaints of companies, from big call centers to smaller firms, is Internet speed. Anyone who has ever used Skype knows this pain.

So of course, someone said if we don’t have faster Internet, we need to legislate it!

But see market forces should dictate Internet speed. Telecommunications firms must provide the best service possible to its customers.

It is the telecommunications firms that should look at what their customers need and demand and take care of them.

But let’s focus on free Wi-Fi.

The idea of having free Wi-Fi all over Metro Manila is a nice one, but a rather pointless one right now.

Not everyone in Manila has a wireless device capable of surfing the Internet. While the Philippines have one of the highest numbers of cell-phones per person, many of the phones being used are not smart phones. If they are smartphones, these are phones that are not Wi-Fi capable yet.

While more Filipinos are online, more Filipinos depend on SMS-based services rather than those that run on Wi-Fi.

The past few weeks, there was talk here in New York of expanding Wi-Fi access to people in the city.

New York’s officials, speaking for its plan to use public pay phones as conduits for free Wi-Fi, said this initiative is imperative in the continuing quest to close the economic gap in the city.

WiFi hotspots in Manhattan, New York City. Courtesy of Google Map

This map shows all of New York City’s public Wi-Fi areas as of 2012. The blue dots are free while the red are paid Wi-Fi areas.

Majority of the free Wi-Fi areas in New York are in wealthier districts, many of which are home to luxury condominiums not a lot of people can actually afford.

As you can see in the map, there is a high concentration of free and paid Wi-Fi areas in the middle (Midtown) and towards the tip of Manhattan in the Financial District. Many of the blue dots point to libraries while Starbucks and McDonalds almost always offer paid access.

Mayor Bill de Blasio hopes an expansion of free broadband access will encourage a more level playing field, particularly if the city’s public housing buildings get them. This means more people can use the Internet to look for jobs.

But New York is a different beast from Manila.

There are ways in the city for someone to lease a smartphone or a laptop to look for a job. Many city services are online. In the Philippines there is less reliance on the Internet to get ahead in the world.

So sure, someone like me would like fast free Wi-Fi in Manila, but there are not many people in the same economic situation as me in the country.

Let’s just make sure that our Internet infrastructure keeps us competitive before we even think about using that infrastructure for something we don’t need right now.