Allowing common towers means more than one telco can use a single tower, thereby increasing the number of subscribers being served by each tower.
Common tower rules finally out but telcos stay 'cautious'
Ian Nicolas Cigaral ( - June 10, 2020 - 6:41pm

MANILA, Philippines — A long-awaited policy meant to increase cellular sites in the Philippines and speed up telco connection has finally been released, with rules silent on a contentious proposal by a newly installed telco undersecretary to limit the players for the project.

On paper, Department Circular No. 008 of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) looks like a win for both PLDT Inc. and Globe Telecom Inc., but the duopoly remained cautious on how the policy will be enforced, especially with DICT Undersecretary RJ Jacinto in office.

The so-called “common tower” policy is meant to “ensure universal access to quality, affordable, reliable and secure ICT services” in the country, the circular signed May 29 stated. The policy is meant as a long-term fix to address shoddy service lagging behind other big Southeast Asian countries.

Under the circular, independent tower companies will be allowed to construct cell sites and fill the estimated 50,000 cellular towers supposedly needed to speed up telco connection. Currently, there are about 18,000 cell sites for about 30.4 million mobile phone users as of 2017, the latest period on which data is available. To compare, data showed Thailand has around 60,000 cell sites for 26.5 million cell phone owners.

Since 2019, when the common tower policy was first floated, nearly 30 tower firms had signed an understanding with DICT to build cell sites, awaiting further guidelines on how to proceed. The circular clears some path for work to begin for these companies. 

While regulations appear to be good news for the telco industry, Ayala-led Globe was not easy to celebrate. “In general, we support the creation of an independent tower industry complementing telcos as this means more jobs for Filipinos other than providing much needed infrastructure to expand the coverage…,” the firm said in a statement on Wednesday.

“However, we remain cautious and hope that the new guidelines will not create more bureaucracy or slow down further the infra build that our country badly needs at this time. In addition, the new guidelines must not result in increasing capex of current industry players,” it added.

Pangilinan-led PLDT declined to comment, saying the company is still studying the matter.

At loggerheads

The cautiousness of both telcos appears warranted, especially since the new rules came two weeks after Jacinto was appointed by President Duterte to DICT. Jacinto, who was Duterte’s adviser on entrepreneurship and ICT prior to his latest post, has clashed with the two telcos for wanting to limit the number of tower firms to participate in the program, instead of opening it to as many players as possible.

Singer Jacinto replaced Eliseo Rio Jr., a military communications veteran, who sided with PLDT and Globe on the matter. The telco companies had since partnered with some tower firms to increase their network capabilities.

Under the approved guidelines, tower companies would need to be registered with DICT, and must have a good record and experience in constructing a capital-heavy facility. “Ample access slots” for all telco players, including the upcoming Dito Telecommunity, must also be ensured on each cell site. 

To speed up the building process, and avoid typical complaints of red tape among telcos, DICT also instructed barangay, cities and municipalities to issue the necessary permits for building within “7 working days” from the filing of application. 

A “non-extendible” period of 20 days will be added if a local legislative body’s approval is needed.

“The finalization of this policy is a significant step in addressing the nation’s connectivity needs that is rendered more immediate by the pandemic,” DICT Secretary Gregorio Honasan II said in the circular.

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