The more the merrier

HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes - The Philippine Star

Let market forces decide how much the market can accommodate.

This basically is the message being delivered by Information and Communications Technology acting chief Eliseo Rio as he intends to sign agreements with at least six cellular tower builders this month.

According to news reports, Rio has already signed a memorandum of agreement with two tower builders and operators, with four more in the pipeline. Each is investing an average of at least $1 billion.

This is actually common sense. With the entry of a third telco player and with incumbent players Smart Communications and Globe Telecom still expanding their networks, there would be a need for more cell sites that should be on the ground at the soonest possible time. Business expansion, especially those in the information technology and business process outsourcing sectors, is highly dependent on telco infrastructure in the country. Our country needs faster and better internet service if we are to compete for foreign investments.

As the telecommunications industry is being expanded to three telco operators, the much-needed network infrastructure should be set up sooner as the third telco player hits the ground running. 

The more than 60 million users of mobile telco services in the Philippines are expecting a game-changing scenario with the promise of having three telco players, but there will be no improvement if the industry is not supported by the much needed cell towers.

Cell towers, also called cell sites, are those that house the antenna, transmitters and receivers to expand network coverage or capacity. According to TowerXchange, the Philippines has one of the lowest tower density scores in Asia.

Rio said that by letting several builders enter the market, new towers could be built as early as middle of next month.

The required number of cell towers in the Philippines is staggering.  More than 50,000 cell towers will have to be put up in the fastest time possible. Grameenphone deputy director Shanshil Ahmed Shibly has said that for the industry to grow, the government should not limit the tower companies to two.

Grameenphone is not only a telco tower construction company but is also a leading provider of mobile telecommunications services in Bangladesh with more than 60 million subscribers and revenues of $1.54 billion.

Another interested bidder is American Tower Corp. (ATC) with a global portfolio of more than 170,000 cell sites. During a government hearing here, ATC chief business officer for Asia Manish Kasliwal said he is hopeful that the final rules would allow more than two tower providers since a reliable industry would need more companies.

Rio has also said that a draft policy for the deployment of only two common telco towers removes the right of telcos to build their own infrastructure. The Philippine Competition Commission and the Office of the Solicitor General have also said that the draft policy is anti-competitive, since only two towers will be accredited by government to build 50,000 towers during the early stages of its implementation.

The Philippines will lose so much by not accepting the bids of tower companies who are ready to bring in their tested expertise, global experience and investments. 

The DICT is pushing for the passage in Congress of the Open Access and Spectrum Management Bill and of a common tower policy conducive to fair competition. 

Even the Senate and Congress have objected to limiting the tower construction business to only two companies.  Senate public services committee chair Sen. Grace Poe and vice-chairperson Sen. Francis Escudero have said that allowing just one or two companies to set up cell towers is stupid. Poe has also warned that she will file a case if this plan pushes through.

The DICT has signed MOUs with Nigeria’s IHS Towers, Malaysia’s Edotco, Filipino form Isoc Infrastructure, and Singapore’s iSon Towers and will ink deals with China Energy and American Towers but the market here is big enough to accommodate more to service our growing telco industry.

Smart’s biggest promo

Smart Communications is celebrating its 25th anniversary with its biggest raffle promo to date.

Running until Feb. 25, 2019, the promo gives lucky subscribers a chance to win a grand prize of P25 million in cash, as well as other prizes, including new smartphones, MVP Rewards points, and data. Smart Amazing 25 raffle promo is open to all Smart prepaid and postpaid subscribers as well as Sun and TNT subscribers. The grand draw is scheduled on Feb. 28.

To join, subscribers need to register once. Simply dial *121#; choose ‘AMAZING 25’ on the menu, and follow the steps to confirm the sign up. Right after the registration, subscribers can already start earning and accumulating raffle entries.

Prepaid subscribers earn raffle entries each time they avail of the promotions through retailers or text registration. More entries await those who use *121# to register to select prepaid promos.

Meanwhile, postpaid subscribers who pay their bills in full and on time can join the raffle. Every P1,000 worth of payment is equivalent to 100 entries. Smart postpaid subscribers can get more raffle entries by buying add-ons such as the Giga Surf offers.

Sun subscribers can earn more entries by availing of add-ons like the Social Bundle 199, Chat Bundle 249 and Non-Stop 450.

The raffle entries earned by subscribers in January are reset at the end of the month. However, all entries accumulated by subscribers within the promo period are qualified for the grand raffle cash prize of P25 million.

Smart is also giving away monthly instant bonuses through texts, calls or data for prepaid subscribers.

One of those looking forward to winning the grand prize is Arlene, an oil painter has an autistic son, Zac, now 11 years old.

If she wins the P25 million grand prize, Arlene said she will construct a building that will house an art museum as well as a school for children with autism and Down syndrome. Proceeds from the operations will support institutions that care for persons with special needs. 

The building will employ persons with disabilities (PWDs) and she will name the complex ‘Manger,’ inspired by the Baby Jesus in the Manger.

For comments, e-mail at [email protected].

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