Who’s causing lousy cell phone signals?
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - August 5, 2020 - 12:00am

Expropriating the two telcos will not improve cell phone service. Untying bureaucratic red tape will. Globe and PLDT/Smart have long been groaning. It takes nine months to get dozens of signatures in 29 permits to put up a single cellular tower (details below). Despite ready funds they can’t meet government’s desired 50,000 cell sites for smooth connections.

The telcos have only 18,000 towers for 73 million internet users, or broadband density of 4,055 users per site. WiFi signal slackens, cellular calls drop.

It’s worsening. In 2018 the density was 4,036 – 16,600 towers for 67 million users. Vietnam then already had 70,000 cell sites for 64 million users; density: 914. Indonesia had 91,700 towers, 132.7 million users, 1,446 density; India 1.459 million towers, 462 million users, 316 density; China 1.95 million towers, 751 million users, 384 density. Philippine backwardness was big news that year. A Malacañang aide was compelling the telcos to hire only two select tower makers, although Globe has an in-house builder, and PLDT/Smart a pool of suppliers. Too, they were told to share existing towers with upcoming third player Dito Telephony. It would have been unsafe, as the towers already were top-heavy with 2G/3G/4G and microwave antennas. (See Gotcha, 10 Oct. 2018: https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2018/10/10/1858720/search-3rd-telco-turning-racket) The issue subsided with no government easing of red tape. Of 1,600 towers targeted by July 2020, Dito has erected 300.

Building a tower takes but a few days. Labor and materials cost P7 million. Equipage, P5 million. Land lease, about P300,000 a year.

Before that – 29 permits, 9 months:

(1) Lessor and right-of-way negotiations, entailing land title, tax declaration, tax clearance, lease contract – 4 documents, 1-2 months;

(2) Social acceptability: homeowners association, immediate and nearby neighbors’ consents – 3 permits, 1-2 months;

(3) Barangay council resolution/clearance – 1 document, 1 month;

(4) National agencies: Civil Aviation Authority, Commission on Indigenous Peoples, Depts. of Health, Public Works and Highways, Environment and Natural Resources, Laguna Lake Development Authority, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Forest Land Use Agreement, Protected Area Management Board, Provincial/Community/City Local Environment and Natural Resources Office, Municipal Agrarian Reform Office – 9-14 permits, 3-12 months;

(5) Local governments and structural: Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board, National Parks Development Committee, city or municipal council resolution, mayor’s permit, zoning, special land use, locational, building permits (including electrical, sanitation, mechanical), fire, fencing, flood, labor clearances – 13 permits, 3-5 months.

In certain locales permits can reach 35; downtime 22 months.

Shh, some signatories demand grease money. Barangay councilmen P5,000 each, per tower, one time. Provincial, city or municipal officials share up to P500,000 per tower – recurring yearly for permit renewals. A few national paper pushers expect P20,000-P30,000.

There’s been some action lately. In January, the Dept. of Information and Communication Technology designed a tower-sharing scheme to help lower telco outlays. Last week Interior and Local Government Sec. Ed Año declared to streamline permits processing. Sen. Grace Poe, public services committee chairwoman, urged telcos to expose the crooks. Let’s see what happens.

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Last weekend’s NBA season opening excited the sports world. It meant a bit of back-to-normal from pandemic. Still the basketball was a “geisterspiel,” or ghost game. For C-19 precautions, there were no fans in the stadium. Only the teams and referees were present. Cheers, chants, even squeaks of rubber soles on hardcourt were canned for televiewers.

Germans of old coined “geisterspiel” for winter football matches so fogged up that players looked like specters and the ball had to be imagined, 1843 Magazine recounts. The term revived in the 1980s when spectators were banned from certain events to curb hooliganism. It came back to use when Germany resumed pro soccer games last March.

Speaking of pandemic coinages, “quarantine” seems inappropriate for a 14-day isolation against C-19, 1843 says. The word derives from “quarantaine,” French for a period of 40 days, akin to Spanish “cuaresma.” Earliest 12th-century usages were in biblical accounts, like Jesus fasting in the desert. Italians borrowed the term during a 14th century plague to refer to the length of time arriving ship crew must remain onboard till cleared to disembark. English and native-speaking French have a precise term for the present 14-day rule: “quatorzaine,” again akin to Spanish “catorce.”

“Covidiot” is an American coinage for someone who ignores COVID-19 health advice. “Covidiotic behavior” spread as fast as the virus, 1843 reports, referring to panic-buyers of toilet paper, cough un-etiquette and to bar and beachgoers in defiance of social distancing and stay-home warnings.

Filipinos have their own Taglish innovation, “asymptangatic.” It means someone so dumb he does not know it.

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

My book “Exposés: Investigative Reporting for Clean Government” is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Expos%C3%A9s-Investigative-Reporting-Clean-Government-ebook/dp/B00EPX01BG

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Gotcha archives: www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

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