Senator Sherwin Gatchalian has urged the government to ensure that Republic Act (RA) 11032, the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018, is in full force for it to build the much-needed information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure the country needs amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Gatchalian, vice-chairman of the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs, lamented that while the law calls and allows for the speedier construction of infrastructure for interconnectivity, the inadequate number of cell sites nationwide keeps internet speed at turtle-pace.
Last year, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) said that it needs at least 50,000 additional cell towers to improve services.
According to the 2019 3rd Quarter Report by TowerXChange, an informal network among advisors in the market tower industry worldwide, the Philippines has 17,850 cell sites, Thailand has 52,483, while Vietnam has 90,000.
Gatchalian added that since the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing all sectors, including the private sector and the academe, to an accelerated digital shift, the lack of adequate ICT is making the transition more difficult for Filipinos.
According to former DICT Undersecretary Eliseo Rio Jr., it usually takes telecommunication companies eight months to secure permits to construct a cell site and another four months for construction.
Under Section 15 of the Ease of Doing Business Law, the anti-red tape law, local government units, and national government agencies are each given seven working days for the processing and approval of licenses, clearances, permits, certifications or authorizations to put up and operate telecommunication facilities, broadcast towers, equipment, and services.
The law also provides that failure to approve or disapprove these applications within the prescribed processing time will render the applications deemed approved.
“Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to move most of our activities online, there is a more urgent need for reliable and accessible internet for everyone. Making this shift, however, has been a big hurdle because of the gaps in our ICT infrastructure and unless the Ease of Doing Business Law is fully enforced, we will not be able to bridge the country’s digital divide,” Gatchalian said.
“Slowly but surely things are moving now. The DILG has already issued guidelines on how to expedite the construction of cell towers,” the senator said.
While he acknowledged the fact that telecommunication companies (telcos) – Globe and Smart – really need to improve the quality of their services, Gatchalian emphasized that the problem is a shared responsibility among the telcos, the local government units (LGUs), and government agencies such as the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA).
ARTA was created by virtue of Section 17 of RA 11032 to monitor and ensure compliance with the national policy of anti-red tape and ease of doing business in the country.
“We have to make the business environment conducive. I’m calling on the Anti-Red Tape Authority to do your job and make it easier for the telcos to put up cell towers,” Gatchalian said.