A Philippines court has allowed internet access to millions of citizens without paying a subscription fee.
Internet access in the country, which has been struggling with an acute telecommunications blackout for several months, is available to all.
The decision was made on Tuesday by Judge María S. Aguirre Jr., the chairwoman of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), who said she was acting on the advice of lawyers and experts.
Internet subscribers in the Philippines can access the internet at no charge, and the country’s internet service providers (ISPs) have not been forced to offer the service.
But they are required to make a monthly fee of P120 ($5.40).
Internet access is provided through a government-run network called the National Digital Infrastructure Network (NDIN) and is limited to those who have a registered mobile phone number.
But internet users in some areas have been finding it difficult to use the network, including in Manila and other cities.
The NDIN system was developed in the 1970s to ensure communications between the government and its citizens.
It is now widely used to provide access to government offices and government facilities.
But the NDIN is under heavy criticism from the opposition and some rights groups, who say it is not a free and open system, which allows the government to dictate what is and is not available to its citizens, and does not provide users with access to information about government programs.
The court decision was welcomed by the Philippine Electronic Communications Association (PECA), which represents a wide range of telecommunications companies.
The group welcomed the ruling, but said the NDIS should be subject to the same regulations as other networks, such as cable TV and landline telephone.
Internet service providers also complain that they have been barred from providing the NDIC service by the government, which denies them any rights of access.
“The NDIC is a public utility and should be treated as such,” said PECA chief executive officer Luis Alves.
“It is not only an issue of government control, it is also an issue for the rights of the citizens who have no way to access it.”
Aguirre, who also sits on the NTC, said the NAC will continue to evaluate the NDICS system and its provisions.
She also said that the NDIA’s mandate includes the provision of internet services to all citizens.