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Business

Telcos seek easier permit procedures for towers

Elijah Felice Rosales - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — Telco players are seeking permanent policies easing the permitting procedures for the buildup of towers that costs around P12 billion annually.

As the provision of the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act on telco permitting nears expiry, telcos are urging the government to make it permanent to lessen the capital they have to shell out in building the critical assets.

Comworks Infratech Corp. CEO Alexander Kiel told The STAR that it costs at least $100,000 or nearly P6 million to build a standard tower that service providers can use to connect consumers to the internet.

Comworks parent EdgePoint Infrastructure said the country needs an additional 2,000 towers every year to serve the growing demand for connectivity. At this rate, the telco industry has to invest about P12 billion annually to meet all of the requirements.

With this much of a cost, Kiel asked the government to relax permitting processes in delivering a telco tower given the importance of connectivity in the digital age. He said lifting several of the requirements for tower construction would remove a bottleneck discouraging firms from pursuing expansion plans.

“The two bottlenecks are the permitting system and the power connections [and] any easement that we can get to improve the infrastructure in the country is desired,” Kiel said.

“If you talk about the standard tower, like a 40 meter, just for the infrastructure side, maybe that will cost you $100,000 already,” he said.

From there, tower operators will then shoulder the operations and maintenance of the facility, as well as the procurement of additional equipment and the outsourcing of power supply.

Further, Kiel said extra investments have to be made when the telco tower is built in areas frequented by typhoons – like the Visayas – to strengthen its structural integrity. He pointed out that it is challenging both in terms of cost and logistics to hook up remote areas to the internet.

Telco giants PLDT Inc. and Globe Telecom Inc. earlier urged the government to extend if not institutionalize, the provision of the second Bayanihan law on telco permitting. The law, signed in 2020, suspended until 2023 the need to obtain clearances in building telco infrastructure.

Globe chief sustainability and corporate communications officer Yoly Crisanto said the firm sped up its network expansion and upgrades to take advantage of the streamlined procedures.

With the second Bayanihan law in place–from 2021 to the third quarter of 2022–Globe added a total of 2,471 cell sites, modernized more than 32,900 mobile sites and put up about 4,000 5G sites nationwide.

As Globe expanded its telco facilities, Crisanto said it managed to accelerate the digital transition among Filipinos, highlighted by the spike in GCash users, from only 20 million in 2019 to 71 million as of the third quarter of 2022.

“The easing of permits to ramp up builds during the pandemic has helped Globe become more responsive to the digital needs of Filipinos at the height of the crisis. This came timely as Globe pursues its pivot to going beyond telco, shifting into a digital solutions group with its suite of life-enabling services for Filipinos,” Crisanto told The STAR.

Crisanto said simplifying telco permitting for good will allow the industry to hasten the delivery of its expansion projects. This, in turn, should not only improve connectivity across the country, but also raise internet quality and speed, supporting Filipinos who rely on online channels for study and work.

PLDT and its wireless subsidiary Smart Communications Inc. also back efforts that would make the expiring provision of the second Bayanihan law permanent, saying that they gained from the streamlined procedures on telco permitting.

Smart vice president and head of regulatory affairs Roy Ibay said the Pangilinan-led telcos have secured around 68,000 fixed and wireless permits as of October, enabling them to improve their services in the provinces, particularly Batangas, Cavite, Laguna and Palawan.

“The government’s initiatives to streamline permitting processes have been helpful in expediting the rollout of our fixed and wireless network, which proved effective to improve our connectivity and boost overall coverage,” Ibay told The STAR.

TELCO

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