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Senator Grace Poe-Llamanzares

Red tape hounds telco industry, says Poe

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President Rodrigo Duterte should also reprimand government regulators such as the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) as red tape continues to be an issue in processing cellular towers across the Philippines, according to Senator Grace Poe-Llamanzares.

Poe, who leads the Senate Committee on Public Services, said regulators are equally responsible for improving mobile connections in the country and should not just rely on the private sector alone.

"Talagang kailangan nating bilisan ang internet service at maging maayos, pero sana mabigyan rin ng Pangulo ng banta ang mga regulators natin sa gobyerno at mga local government na 'wag ninyong ipitin ito, dahil ito ay importante para sa kabuhayan, para sa pag-aaral ng mga kababayan," she said during the Laging Handa virtual briefing on Thursday.

In his SONA earlier this week, Duterte threatened dominant telecommunications firms Globe Telecom Inc. and Smart Communications Inc. to improve their services by December, else risk having their properties expropriated by the government or be shut down.

"Kindly improve the services before December. I want to call Jesus Christ to Bethlehem. Better have that line cleared," said Duterte.

In response, Globe said it will heed the order, as it noted that it has earmarked $1.2 billion for its capital expenditure this year alone.

PLDT Inc., the parent company of Smart, in March said it will hike its capital expenditure program to P83 billion this year, but slashed this down to P60 billion in May following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease.

The company has yet to release a statement in response to the SONA, but announced the rollout of its commercial 5G services starting Thursday, July 30.

Poe said Duterte should also look at the NTC, which is mandated to regulate and supervise the provision of public telecommunications services in the Philippines.

"Kailangan ay matunton natin sino ba talaga and responsable. Dalawang bagay 'yan -- ang pribadong sektor, oo, pero pati na rin ang gobyerno," she said.

"Kailangan ay maging mabilis ang aksyon ng gobyerno sa pagbibigay ng permits. Kailangan ay nakatutok ang NTC at hindi palusutin kung ano man ang dapat na maayos, kaya sana ay ang ating Pangulo rin ay matawag ang atensyon ng mga regulators natin," she added.

Poe added that the NTC should be more proactive in regulating the industry, and assist the telecommunications companies in processing the necessary paperwork to ensure faster connectivity.

"Kung dati pa 'tong problema, dapat ang NTC mismo ang nagsasabi na 'Hoy, bilisan ninyo ang inyong serbisyo, ito ang inyong mga penalties,' eh wala naman tayong naririnig na ganon kaya sa tingin ko, maganda na alam ng Pangulo itong problema na ito," she said.

"Sa panahon ngayon talagang napakahalaga ng internet connection pati ng cell connection dahil nga marami sa atin, hindi naman makapasok ng physical sa trabaho, 'yung mga anak rin natin hindi naman puwedeng pumasok sa kanilang paaralan, kaya importante na maayos ang kanilang connection," added Poe.

Difficulty in securing permits

At present, telecommunications companies said it takes some six months to one year to put up a single cellular tower in the Philippines, given the difficulty in securing the permits.

Dito Telecommunity Corp., the third major player in the industry set to launch commercial operations next year, said securing permits was not as difficult as expected.

Earlier this month, the NTC gave Dito Telecom a six-month extension to satisfy its commitments to the government, which the company did not meet by the July 8 deadline.

This comes as the government awarded a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) on July 8, 2019.

Under the provisions of the CPCN, Dito must meet its voluntary commitments every year for the first five years of operations, else lose its P24 billion performance bond.

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