Duterte threatens telcos: Improve services by December or face expropriation
Ian Nicolas Cigaral (Philstar.com) - July 27, 2020 - 5:26pm

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE 3 8:04 p.m., July 27) — President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday took a swipe anew at the country's telecommunications duopoly, this time threatening to seize their assets if the companies do not shape up by the end of the year.

In his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA), Duterte briefly went off script to complain about the "less-than-ideal" services of Globe Telecom Inc. and Smart Communications Inc., the wireless arm of PLDT Inc., saying he might take "drastic steps" against the companies if they do not improve.

"You know, these companies providing public services better improve. Don't make us wait for 10 years to experience the kind fo service being enjoyed by other countries," he said in a mix of English and Filipino before lawmakers.

"If you are not ready to improve, I might just as well close all of you and we revert back to line telephone. I will expropriate that and give that to government," he said.

In a statement, Ayala-led Globe said the company has been investing heavily on technology to improve its services, but admitted challenges remain. "We heed the call of the president to improve telco services," it said.

"Service performance and increased consumer demand for data are the key reasons why we have been investing billions of dollars to upgrade and improve our network," the company said.

Pangilinan-led PLDT did not respond to a request for comment as of this reporting.

In 2018, Duterte persistently attacked the two telco players that paved the way for an accelerated bidding for a third telco player in the belief a new competition would improve the country's shoddy telco services. 

The winner of that bidding, Dito Telecommunity has recently delayed its technical launch scheduled for July by six months due to business disruptions from lockdowns. Dito is led by Davao-based tycoon Dennis Uy, who helped fund Duterte's presidential campaign in 2016, and is 40% owned by state-run China Telecommunications Corp.

Despite the delay on its technical launch, where the company is due for checking whether it would meet government-mandated goals on speed and coverage, Dito said the company remains on track to its commercial launch next year.

The country's sloppy telco connection has always been a problem. Apart from a new service provider, the government, through a relatively new ICT department, has adopted a common tower policy, a program meant to increase the number of cellular sites in the archipelago to catch up with rising demand for network services.

Currently, Statista, a data provider, put the number of local cell sites at around 18,000 shared by about 30.4 million mobile phone users as of 2017, the latest period on which data is available. To compare, data showed Thailand has around 60,000 cell sites for 26.5 million cell phone owners.

Shares at PLDT went down 1.49% on Monday to close at P1,320 apiece, while those of Globe's inched down 3.83% to P2,010 each.

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