FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - October 23, 2018 - 12:00am

Here is another statistic that will depress us: our neighbor Vietnam has about 70,000 cell sites to serve a contiguous land area and population roughly comparable to ours. We have about 2,500 cell sites spread across our archipelago.

In the face of the exponential growth in demand for data transmission, we need to build 50,000 new cell sites very quickly. If we fail to do that, we will soon face that infernal problem of congestion that already besets all other areas of our infrastructure.

We already pay severe economic penalties for the congestion besetting our backward infrastructure: choked roads, congested ports and overloaded airports. These economic costs come in the form of higher costs for moving goods and people, an intolerable food price regime that aggravates poverty and wasted man-hours.

If we do not build the cell sites we need to cope with the explosion in data transmission demand, our services will deteriorate, our businesses will suffer and our vital business process outsourcing industries will probably shrink. That will reflect not only in diminished foreign exchange earnings but also a loss of jobs.

In the face of the dire need for thousands of new cell sites, Presidential Adviser Ramon Jacinto insists that only two companies be allowed to build these towers. He should take a close look at the numbers.

According to industry sources, each operational tower costs a minimum of P9.72 million to put up. If only two companies will be accredited to set up the towers we need, each of them will have to invest as least P243 billion over the next five years. The provision of cell site services being a new industry, it will be terribly difficult for a company to acquire the financing support to do the job.

In the Jacinto proposal, the risk of business failure is very high indeed. Should the provision of cell site services be limited to only two companies, the risks of corruption from the acquisition of land, to right of way and government permits, to the pricing of services will be intolerably high as well.

The Jacinto proposal will also foreclose other innovative solutions to our severe cell site shortage. Our broadcast companies, for instance, have hundreds of towers that can double up as cell sites. Our transmission companies have thousands of towers, some of which can be repurposed. Companies erecting tall buildings can add towers they can lease out.

In addition, of course, the telecommunications companies can continue building towers as they have been doing. Building a tower, including a leaning one, is not such a high-tech enterprise. The market should be left open to all possible players. What is important is to meet national needs as quickly as possible rather than ensure the profitability of those blessed with political patronage.

In a word, the Jacinto proposal to limit cell site provision to only two designated providers is not only arbitrary. It is unworkable. It runs against the grain of all existing policies intending to foster open access, encourage inclusiveness, prevent monopolies and enliven competition.

The reason we have so dramatically fallen behind our neighbors in the region, including having the slowest internet services, is that over the years we have so many short-sighted policies in place. Those bad policies were inserted when greed overshadowed national interest.


It is now three weeks since journalist Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and then vanished.

Over that period, Riyadh has been presenting and revising, presenting and revising again, their official version of what happened. First they said the journalist departed the consulate whole. Then they said a fight broke out in the consulate and Khashoggi was inadvertently killed.

Now they are trying to convince us a bunch of “rouge” Saudi intelligence officers landed in Istanbul, complete with a bone saw, and murdered the journalist. Each new version of what happened becomes more chilling than the preceding one. But the intent of all the versions so far presented remains the same: to insulate the King and the Crown Prince from this growing international scandal. 

Saudi Arabia’s closest allies and flunkeys in the region have praised each new revised version of events as indicative of the monarchy’s candidness. But the rest of the world refuses to be fooled.

To this day, no one knows where Khashoggi’s body is. None of the versions emanating from Riyadh discusses this point. The team of killers that landed in Istanbul on a chartered plane and left the same day included officers believed to be in the inner circle of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The young Salman is known as a control freak. Nothing happens in the kingdom he doesn’t know of.

He is a man known for ruthless and haphazard approaches to getting what he wants. He eased his own cousin out of the line of succession. He detained, without explanation, the Lebanese prime minister who was visiting his country. He rounded up his own relatives and kept them prisoners in a luxury hotel until they coughed up about $100 million they supposedly owed the state. He masterminded the brutal war against Yemeni rebels that continues to this day and puts millions at risk of famine.

Today, Turkish President Erdogan is scheduled to appear before his parliament to unveil the evidence his government has compiled about the Khashoggi incident. Few expect that the Turkish version of what happened will clear the colorful, and dangerous, Crown Prince.

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