We need many cellsite tower firms

Published October 11, 2018, 1:57 PM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

e-cartoon-oct-11-2018In  an  effort to improve the Internet service in the Philippines, the government has embarked on a move to have one more telecom company on top of the two which we now have – Globe and Smart.  It  also seeks to establish separate companies to concentrate on the erection of more towers needed by the Internet system.

The country today has only 16,500 cell sites. It  needs an additional 50,000 towers  to operate a service with  113 million individual and institutional subscribers.  In contrast, Vietnam has 65,000 towers, President Duterte himself said when he called for a third telecommunications firm for the country.

The Department of  Information and Communication, however, proposes to limit to two the number of independent  and private tower companies, a move which has been opposed by  several interested entities, for it defeats the purpose of  quickly improving the country’s Internet service.

It now takes at least eight months to acquire the many permits required by local governments, the principal reason the two  established servers have said is  their biggest problem. “We cannot see why and how only two tower companies, private and independent at that, can help overcome the bureaucracy in building cellsites,”  Globe Senior Vice President Froilan Castelo said.

Several other companies, including six foreign ones, have also opposed the idea of limiting the building of cell sites to two companies. “Having only two companies in the program does not make sense,”said an official of one of the foreign firms.

Indeed,  in the ongoing effort to get a third telecom company  to improve the services  of the current “duopoly,” it does not  make sense to set up a  duopoly of tower companies, when the need is so great and so many firms, local and foreign, are interested in the effort to raise the country to the  level of most of its neighbors in the new world of the Internet.

In the search for a third telco, one Norwegian company and four Philippine  companies each acquired P1 million  bid documents this week,  signifying their serious intent to bid in the telco auction set for November 7 by the National Telecommunications Commission. The winning firm will invest a minimum of P40 billion in the first year and P140 billion in the next five years.

The search for tower companies will complement this search for a third telco.  The DICT’s proposals for this separate program are in their early stage. Aside from limiting the tower companies to two, the DICT seeks the  establishment of 25,000 cell towers in seven years, with mandatory sharing with all mobile network operators.

Considering that we actually need 50,000 new towers on top of our present 16,500 cellsites  if we are to approximate Vietnam’s  65,000, the DICT should amend its present proposal to have only two companies. We need many more of them to build the  thousands of new cellsites for the three telcos that will soon be operating in the country to bring us to the level of most of the countries in the Internet world.