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‘COME OUT AND SAY WHO IN GOVERNMENT ARE GIVING THEM A HARD TIME’

Telcos urged to name officials delaying cell site permits

/ 05:26 AM July 31, 2020

Telecommunication companies should name the regulators and local officials who make it hard for them to obtain permits to build infrastructure that they need to improve their services, Sen. Grace Poe said on Thursday.

Poe, chair of the Senate public services committee, said the identification of the culprits would allow President Rodrigo Duterte to deal with them accordingly and the telcos to proceed with building cell sites and towers.

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In his address to a joint session of Congress on Monday, Mr. Duterte upbraided Smart and Globe Telecom for their poor service and threatened them with government expropriation if their performance remained the same by December.

Poe said raising the quality of telecommunication and internet services required effort from both the telcos and the government.

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But some local officials, Poe said, ask the telcos to build cell sites and towers in locations that they themselves choose and withhold permits if the companies refuse.

Poe called on the telcos to speak out so the practice could be broken.

“I hope the whistleblowers of the companies, instead of complaining that the permits they need are slow to be given, should come out and say who in [the] government are giving them a hard time. I know this would not be easy because they are afraid they would be further coerced,” Poe said at a news briefing.

“But if the government and the President are serious [about] improving the internet connection in the country, I know they would not ignore the people’s plea to be given proper service,” she added.

Red tape law

Poe said she hoped somebody would explain to Mr. Duterte that many regulators are not not doing their job, are corrupt, and delay permits.

“I’m sure if the President calls them, they would tremble and fast-track their response to our needs,” she added.

The red tape law needs to be enforced, Poe said.

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The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has yet to respond to the Inquirer’s request for a clarification of the service quality that Mr. Duterte expects to have by December.

Poe said meeting the December deadline given by the President required infrastructure improvement.

“If we are being reasonable, we know that all of these would not be completed by December. But there should be marked improvement [in] existing infrastructure and services,” she said.

NTC lapses

Poe said there were also lapses on the part of the NTC.

For instance, she said, the NTC’s data on cell sites in the country does not tally with the data of Smart and Globe.

The telcos’ data shows they have 34,000 cell sites, but the NTC says there are 40,000, she said. The NTC should have been goading the telcos to improve their services or face penalties, but she has heard no such effort from the regulator, she said.

Poe also said the NTC and the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) should set a minimum internet speed in the country.

There is a proposal in Congress to set the minimum speed at 20 megabites per second, which is half of the regional average. But Poe said it would be difficult to legislate internet speed given the fast changes in technology.

Commenting on Mr. Duterte’s threat, Rodolfo Salalima, former head of the DICT, on Thursday said improving telecom services required infrastructure development, for which the telcos were willing to spend more to build up their networks.

But the problem, he said, is the difficulty of obtaining the dozens of permits needed from the national government and local governments.

A former lawyer for Globe Telecom, Salalima said that when he was information and communication secretary, he proposed an executive order that would cut the length of the permitting process, which could take months, to nine days.

But Mr. Duterte did not issue the order, he said. At present, he said, it can take up to eight months to build a single cell site.

At the press briefing, Poe batted for more competition in the telecommunications industry, saying more investors should enter the field aside from the third telco that is expected to begin operations in March next year.

The third telco, China-backed DITO Telecommunity, is controlled by Davao businessman Dennis Uy, a supporter of Mr. Duterte. —WITH A REPORT FROM MIGUEL R. CAMUS

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TAGS: cell site, Globe Telecom, Local officials, Poe, Senate, Smart, telcos
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