Address policy gaps hindering digital infrastructure builds, group urges new admin

The new administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. should take concrete steps to invest in the expansion and upgrade of the country’s digital infrastructure which is indispensable to the sustainable recovery from the economic slump and enable more Filipinos to partake of the digital economy, an advocacy group said this week.

“There remain numerous roadblocks and hurdles that prevent us from realizing our full potential to be a tech-driven economy,” said lawyer Tim Abejo, co-convenor of CitizenWatch Philippines.

“We support the new administration’s pronouncements to harness technology as power tools to improve public services and productivity of industries but there are obsolete policies that are no longer responsive and are even hindering the building of last mile infrastructure and depriving consumers’ access to quality internet services.”

A missed opportunity

Atty. Abejo lamented that House Bill 10388, or “An Act Mandating the Allocation of an Area for Information and Communication Technology Infrastructure and Facilities in Subdivisions and Housing Development,” that was unanimously passed on third reading at the House of Representatives did not become a law in the Duterte administration.

“Both Houses of the 19th Congress must immediately act on this,” Abejo said.

The law would have mandated subdivisions to allot areas for cell sites so that their residents could enjoy better internet services.

“As it is, many homeowners associations and communities continue to prohibit the construction of cell sites and other communication infrastructure in their areas. They cite aesthetics, or perceived health risks, which are unfounded,” Abejo said.

He said that telecommunication companies have encountered permitting issues with such associations, which has in turn frustrated their goals of constructing cell sites and deploying broadband fiber connectivity for the benefit of residents of gated communities.

The bill, if passed, would remedy this and more homes will have access to the best broadband services that of their choice.

“We support the proposal that up to 30% of the gross area for open spaces should be allotted for the establishment of ICT infrastructure and related amenities,” said Abejo.

“This covers all housing projects, subdivisions, villages and other residential areas including socialized housing projects,” he said.

“The measure mandates the Department of Information and Communications Technology and the National Telecommunications Commission to have a locational plan, identifying the sites for ICT facilities in accordance to zoning ordinances and comprehensive land use plans,” said Abejo.

He added: “There should also be a clear provision saying developers may opt to be resellers of ICT services so long as their rates are aligned to the rates of ICT providers. This will protect consumers from overpriced internet services.”

The digital new normal

Abejo said that the COVID-induced lockdowns showed Filipinos the necessity and indispensability of internet services not only for work and livelihood but also for personal purposes.

“As such, our legislators should categorize ICT infrastructure as utilities that should be free from the requirement of land purchase and lease,” he said.

“Our recovery hinges on our ability to develop our human resource potential into a highly competitive digital force. By eliminating policy and bureaucratic obstacles, government, in partnership with the private sector, can align investment plans for complementing projects to achieve a systemic digital transformation of government and private enterprises and aim to be a competitive player in the global digital economy, “ Abejo said.