EO on telco towers, internet infra to speed up building of PH digital infrastructure: Group 

The immediate issuance of an executive order that would “spell out the guidelines governing the establishment of telecommunication towers and other internet infrastructure” would help speed up the building of the country’s digital infrastructure, an advocacy group championing consumer rights said.

(Courtesy of CitizenWatch Philippines)

CitizenWatch Philippines echoed an earlier statement by the Private Sector Advisory Council and the Anti-Red Tape Authority on the two Joint Memorandum Circulars (JMCs).

According to CitizenWatch Philippines co-convenor Orlando Oxales, two JMCs have enabled the country to achieve “respectable progress” in the past two years.

“But these JMCs will expire in July 2023, and we cannot afford to lose momentum in our pursuit of greater connectivity and digital transformation,” Oxales said.

Oxales explained that the results of the JMCs “became evident ” in 18 months. “They were able to significantly improve the processing time to secure permits: for telco towers from 8 months to 16 days, and other internet infrastructure from 2.5 years to just 2.5 months,” he said.

Oxales also noted that the JMCs were able to “cut down the number of permits” --- from 13 to eight and the number of other documentary requirements from 86 to 35.

“Telco coverage substantially improved,” he said. “A total of 7,000 towers were erected in just a span of 18 months, bringing the total number to 29,700 from 22,700,” he added.

Oxales also pointed out that advantages did not take long to follow: from 71st place globally in October 2021, the Philippines climbed to 45th place in terms of the speed of fixed broadband in November 2022.

Meanwhile, ranking in terms of mobile internet speed also improved from 93rd in October 2021 to 80th in November 2022.

“The direct results of the JMCs are undisputable,” Oxales said. “This shows we only needed to do things more efficiently in order to see a drastic improvement,” he added.

The said JMCs, Oxales said, were an offshoot of directives from President Rodrigo Duterte to improve telco services.

To address the multi-agency red tape issues, JMC no. 1 series of 2020, or Streamlined Guidance for the Issuance of Permits, Licenses, Certificates for the Construction of Shared Passive Telecommunication Tower Infrastructure, and JMC no. 1 series of 2021, or Streamlined Guidelines for the Issuance of Permits and Clearances for the Erection of Poles.

Construction of Underground Fiber Ducts and Installation of Aerial and Underground Cable and Facilities to Accelerate the Rollout of Telecommunication and Internet Infrastructure was issued for the compliance of all parties involved in the permitting process.

The circulars were jointly issued by the Anti-Red Tape Authority, the Department of Information and Communication Technology, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Department of Public Works and Highways, the Department of Health, the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development, the Food and Drug Administration, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, the National Telecommunications Commission, and the Bureau of Fire Protection.

Earlier, the Private Sector Advisory Council and the Anti-Red Tape Authority, noted that compliance with the two JMCs “might stop and reversed with more red tape if these are not made into a permanent executive policy.”

Oxales said that CitizenWatch Philippines is in “complete agreement” with the PSAC and ARTA on the matter.

“It is not difficult to imagine how much better we would have performed if all LGUs and agencies concerned complied with the JMCs,” Oxales said.

He added that only an executive order will have the effect of a law which in turn will ensure sustained compliance and enforcement of the guidelines.

“At this point in our digitalization journey, to miss the opportunity to institutionalize the elimination of red tape and other bureaucratic hurdles, so that we can improve our telecommunication and internet coverage, would be a huge setback in our drive to become a competitive digital economy,” Oxales said. With President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. Acknowledging the need for such a transformation, Oxales said: “I believe fast action on this Executive Order will be a strong message to all parties involved to further expedite the building of the country’s digital infrastructure.”