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Search for 3rd telco turning into a racket

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - October 10, 2018 - 12:00am

The proposed third telco supposedly will benefit us consumers. It would give the duopoly a run for their money; thence all three freely will compete in best services at lowest rates.

But whose interest is served by a sudden rule to compel that third player to choose from only two cell tower providers that regulators will accredit? And why will the originals Globe and PLDT/Smart be forbidden from henceforth putting up new cell sites on their own?

It’s brazen rent seeking, says The STAR business columnist Boo Chanco. In polite Tagalog, palakasan at lagayan. Perhaps the third telco is just a scam, as a business editor long has been decrying. Carpetbaggers in the Duterte administration have hijacked the idea and mangled it for personal gain. All sorts of rules were inserted in aid of extortion. They think the President won’t notice. Engrossed with his war on drugs and heading off ouster conspiracies, Duterte leaves to courtiers the details of economic projects.

One reason why Philippine telecom connection is so spotty is there are only 16,500 cell sites. At least 50,000 overdue ones need to be put up, to cope with the present 67 million subscribers. Plus progressively more, as Internet usage grows. By contrast, Vietnam has 65,000, and Indonesia 90,000.

The emergent limit to only two tower operators would create a new duopoly. Predictably the two would collude to jack up rates, and thus encumber the new third player. It would do the same to Globe and PLDT/Smart that would be forced to hire them. As all three run inefficiently due to the monkey on their back, their costs will rise and service deteriorate. There will be no compulsion for the cell tower duopoly to rush the erection of the 50,000 cell site backlog. Consumers will suffer. To seniors: remember before the 1990s when PLDT (under a different owner) and G-Tel, the only two landline providers, took years to act on home and office connection applications? That’s what will happen to cell sites.

Telecom officials announced the two-tower-maker limit the other week in “consultations” with industry stakeholders. The two would be independent of telcos, which in turn cannot own equity in them. Purportedly it would promote tower sharing, non-discriminatory access, uniformity, and transparency in leasing arrangements.

At once participants protested. American Tower Corp., one of six interested foreign tower firms, said the market is large enough for more than just two accredited players. Manish Kasliwal, its chief business officer for Asia, said, “We need more companies if you want an efficient industry.” Chairman-CEO Patrick Tangney of Frontier Tower Solutions, said that “to limit it to only two companies will result in failure of agreements.” Grameenphone Ltd, a tower subsidiary of Norway’s Telenor, said the limit stifles competition.

Noting that even tower providers want an open, level playing field, advocacy group Better Broadband Alliance urged the officials to take heed. “The tower companies find it viable to have more, why are they (officials) limiting it to only two?” noted lead convenor Grace Mirandilla-Santos. The way the officials played deaf to their points, the “consultation” was more a “compulsion.” Globe chief legal officer Froilan Castelo acknowledged the need for tower sharing wherever needed. But the limit violates their congressional franchise to build up own facilities for best service. That constitutional sanctity of contracts too was of no import to the officials.

The real block to cell site expansion is bureaucratic red tape. Putting up a single tower takes 25 permits involving hundreds of signatures. Eight months on average are wasted just for the right of way, although the tower can be up in a matter of days. Local government units have no standardized permitting fees. That doesn’t yet include money under the table to get papers moving in provincial capitols, down to city, municipal, and barangay halls.

And now the carpetbaggers at the national level want a big piece of the action.

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Tenor Ramon “Montet” Acoymo, Aliw Award Hall of Famer for Best Male Classical Singer, will give a concert for the centennial celebration of the University of the Philippines College of Education. Venue on Oct. 18, Thursday, 6:30 p.m. is the institution’s Benitez Theater, Diliman campus.

With Prof. Augusto Espino as pianist, the two Chancellor’s Awardees as “Most Outstanding Classical Musicians” of U.P.-Diliman will present a repertoire of Sacred Music; Philippine, European, and American Art Music and Opera Arias; and Broadway favorites.

Proceeds will be for scholarship grants and other projects of the U.P. College of Education Alumni Association. P300-ticket donations available at the box office or from Norma, at 0927 3176902 and (02) 9293386.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jarius-Bondoc/1376602159218459, or The STAR website https://www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

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