Telcos blame LGUs for slow tower rollout

Richmond Mercurio - The Philippine Star
Telcos blame LGUs for slow tower rollout
To build just one telecommunications tower, companies need to secure from 25 to 30 permits mostly from local government units (LGUs), with the process taking an average of eight months, a Globe Telecom executive told President Rodrigo Duterte at Malacañang.
STRA / File

MANILA, Philippines — Slow internet?

To build just one telecommunications tower, companies need to secure from 25 to 30 permits mostly from local government units (LGUs), with the process taking an average of eight months, a Globe Telecom executive told President Duterte at Malacañang.

This prompted Duterte to order government agencies to speed up the process.

In a televised address aired yesterday, he also urged telcos to identify government officials responsible for the red tape in the processing of applications for thousands of telcos towers.

Sen. Grace Poe on Thursday also urged telcos to reveal corrupt officials and regulators blocking or delaying the processing of permits.?

A telco official who requested anonymity, however, told The STAR before the weekend that the companies feared retaliation if they identify the local officials, which could make it even more difficult to secure the permits.

“Customers will then complain about no signal or poor services. It’s really a difficult situation for us,” the official said.?

Duterte has ordered concerned agencies to act on the complaints of telecommunications company on the bureaucratic red tape in securing permits to be able to construct telecom towers in the country.

Duterte issued the order to the Department of the Interior and Local Government and key agencies to make sure that these issues are threshed out to make sure that there will be better service before his term ends in 2022.

The President met with Globe Telecoms president and chief executive officer Ernest Cu on Thursday in Malacañang, a few days after Duterte threatened to expropriate in favor of the government public utilities if they would not shape up soon.

During his State of the Nation Address (SONA), the President said he wants things done by December, and that he wants a clear line when he calls Jesus Christ in Bethlehem.

“It’s really corruption. You can ask (Senator) Bong (Go), you can ask (Finance Secretary) Sonny Dominguez, the generals, (Interior) Secretary (Eduardo) Año. Just report them directly and my order to the Cabinet is to really take the most drastic measure that you can find so we can finally understand each other,” Duterte told Cu.?“This is my last mile. I make no apologies about it kung ano ang nagawa ko o anong mali ko. Basta ako magtrabaho lang,” Duterte said, emphasizing it’s just work, nothing personal.

During Duterte’s televised address aired yesterday, Cu discussed how they are having difficulties with the requirements of certain agencies before they are allowed to construct tower stations.

Cu said it requires from 25 to 29 permits from LGUs and other agencies, which takes up to eight months to secure to build one cellular tower.?

“We are suffering from many, many years of this, before your administration, many administrations,” Cu told Duterte. ?

In addition, Cu said telcos also have to pay a number of miscellaneous fees and different types of tower fees.?

“Think of it, sir, if we apply for 5,000 towers times 28 or 30 permits, how many thousands of permits will we need to get to be able to start?” Cu added.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said he has met with concerned agencies and already mapped out a joint memorandum circular to address the problem of telcos.

Año assured the President that they will make sure to address the concerns of the telcos once and for all.

Globe Telecom earlier said the telco industry’s bid to expand and put up needed broadband infrastructure has been hindered by various reasons, foremost of which are the permit requirements imposed by LGUs as well as the opposition by hostile homeowner associations.

Former Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) undersecretary Eliseo Rio told The STAR that the problem is that corruption is very difficult to prove in the country, and oftentimes would backfire on the one reporting it.?“In spite of Senate hearings on big time corruption, it goes on unabated,” he said.?“What is more effective is to make local government units realize that telecommunication infrastructure is as important as roads, bridges, water, electricity and transportation. It took a pandemic crisis to make LGUs realize this fact,” Rio said.?For Rio, corruption is not really the problem in rolling out telecommunication infrastructure, but is just a small part of it.?“The main problems are those legal permits being imposed by LGUs that take time and effort to get. And these permits are sources of the LGUs’ revenue. These expenses are of course just passed on to the subscribers, making our subscription very expensive,” Rio said.?Last week, a joint memorandum circular was signed by various government agencies to streamline requirements and reduce procedural delays in the construction of shared passive telecommunications towers, or common towers, in the country.?With the circular, the period for securing necessary permits in the construction of common towers is seen being slashed to 16 days from over 200 days.?With red tape associated with permitting requirements one of the key reasons for the country’s slow deployment rate of telecommunication towers, the joint circular targets to unburden independent tower companies (ITC) of multiple permits.?As a result, the ITCs could focus on the accelerated roll-out of common towers across the country, which will mean an increase in speed, strength and quality of connection for Filipinos.  ?The DICT said a certificate of use for the towers will now be easier to acquire as it will be issued by the Office of the Building Official instead of the Certificate of Occupancy which demands more stringent standards.?It said a separate issuance for locational clearance guidelines is being drafted by the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development in accordance with joint circular provisions.

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines will no longer require a height clearance permit for common towers below 50 meters that are located outside of CAAP critical areas near airports.?The DICT said it will also be closely monitoring the permitting process as LGUs are required to inform the agency regarding the approval and disapproval of any building permit applications involving common towers.?LGUs are likewise prohibited from requiring documents or clearances other than those expressly enumerated under the joint circular, it said.  —  Christina Mendez


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