The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), in partnership with consumer advocacy group CitizenWatch Philippines, has launched a close monitoring initiative “Telecom Tower Watch” to address delays in the building of digital infrastructures in face of soaring demand for broadband services.
In a recent online forum organized by think tank Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute (ADRi) on “Building Digital Infrastructure for a Digital Philippines,” Stratbase ADRi President, Professor Dindo Manhit said that “Telecom Tower Watch is a multisectoral initiative to help push the fast development of digital infrastructure in the Philippines and will promote the transparency and accountability of all relevant parties in accelerating the building pace of telecommunications towers nationwide.”
“Building a robust broadband backbone is a long-term infrastructure asset that would boost the country’s competitiveness in an emerging digital economy and indispensable, not just to survive this crisis, but to rebound and push for an acceptable pace of recovery,” Manhit said.
In his keynote message, DICT Undersecretary for Digital Philippines Emmanuel Caintic said, “The current digital infrastructure of the country is still not enough to realize an affordable and fast Internet connectivity. One of the major issues we have identified is the regulatory constraints that hinder telecommunications companies to further invest in infrastructure of the country.”
In line with the initiative, Caintic said that DICT will launch an online portal to assure that registration of companies engaged in the business of establishing or operating the shared cell towers are properly monitored for all parties concerned.
“The system shall present dashboards that showcase the status of each registration and application submitted so they will actually know which particular application is getting stranded at which particular point, and which agency all the way to the area and to the location,” Caintic said.
In the same forum, Globe Telecom Vice President for Site Acquisition and Management Vince Tempongko said that telcos in general “have already been spending close to half its revenues. We would need help of the government to fast-track even further our requirements.”
Tempongko said, “We were able to get 1,900 permits from July to November 2020 and this is almost six times more than what we got in the same timeframe in the previous year. This allowed us to build 1,300 cell site towers in 2020. This is 18 percent higher than what we built in 2019, again this is in spite of the almost three-month ECQ [enhanced community quarantine] period that we experienced last year.”
Smart Communications Vice President for Regulatory Affairs, Atty. Roy Ibay, pointed out several problems regarding some local government units (LGU) despite the directives of the Joint Memorandum Circular and Bayanihan II to speed up permitting timelines.
Atty. Ibay said, “Some LGUs are still imposing unjust, excessive, oppressive, and confiscatory regulatory fees. When you protest, they basically use that non-payment of this regulatory fees to withhold issuance of building and other local permits.”
He pointed out that some LGUs and barangays continue to impose requirements and fees counter to the provisions under the Joint Memorandum Circular on Power Permitting and the Bayanihan Act II law.
CitizenWatch Philippines Convener Orlando Oxales said that the Telecom Tower Watch project will establish a regular venue for close monitoring and troubleshooting of unnecessary delays in the building of all telecommunications towers and related projects.
Oxales said, “Telecom Tower Watch will have an online awareness campaign and a series of consultative meetings that would gather government, private sector, and other stakeholders to tackle issues, find solutions, and align strategies towards the fast expansion and upgrading of the country’s digital infrastructure.”
“Telecom Tower Watch will make these processes transparent to the public. If there are parties that are causing undue delay, getting that out to the public is in itself a big deterrent,” Oxales said.
In reaction, Stratbase non-resident fellow and InfraWatch PH convener, Atty. Terry Ridon said, “What’s most important is for national government, civil society and the private sector to work together to basically resolve this problem.
“If it means that we have to engage in different forms of initiatives to really make sure that the President directives on expediting and raising the level of service is undertaken at the soonest time, I think all of us should definitely work together,” Ridon said.