It has been months since President Duterte called for a third telecommunications company to help improve Internet services in the country. Barring any last-minute problem, Secretary Eliseo Rio Jr. of the Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT), the new telco should be chosen and known by November 7.
It seems the decision on this matter has been delayed by the issue of national security should the third telco turn out to be a foreign company. The President had initially invited China to join the Philippine telco industry, but several other foreign companies have since expressed interest in the project. With a foreign entity in the center of the nation’s telecommunications industry, the issue of national security came into play.
At the same time that this matter of a third telco is being discussed, a related issue has cropped up — the selection of companies that will build towers all over the country needed by the three telcos that should be in operation by next month. The Philippines has only 16,000 cellsites, compared to Vietnam which has 65,000. The two telco companies now in operation—Globe and Smart – have long complained about the difficulty in getting local governments to approve cellsites within their jurisdictions and the DICT has now proposed to solve this problem by having tower companies to concentrate on building these cellsites, for joint use by the three telcos.
A proposal of presidential adviser on ICT and economic affairs Ramon Jacinto to have two — and only two — such tower firms has drawn widespread opposition, for it seemed to foment a “duopoly” in tower building, at a time when the “duopoly” of telco firms is being ended by including a third firm. In the words of one analyst, the move to limit the tower firms to two when the need for cellsites is so great – at least 50,000 more just to match Vietnam – is not only arbitrary but also unworkable.
We thus have these two issues that need to be resolved — national security if a foreign firm is chosen to be the country’s third telco and limiting the number of tower companies when the need for these towers is so tremendous and so urgent.
The government should be able to resolve these issues after so much public discussion and study so that we can begin the great work of raising our telecommunications industry out of its current doldrums right at the start of the new year.