Stronger common tower policy urged

FOR THE COUNTRY’S CONNECTIVITY (Clockwise from upper left) Manila Times editor Dafort Villaseran, business columnist Reynaldo ‘Rey’ Lugtu, National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) deputy commissioner Ella Bianca Lopez, InfiniVAN chief technology officer Alberto Espedido, Department of Information and Communications Technology Undersecretary for Digital Philippines Maria Victoria Castro and NTC Regulations Branch director Imelda Reodique Walcien discuss during the Times online forum, Connectivity Resiliency for the Country’s Productivity on Thursday, June 9, 2022. SCREENGRAB ON FACEBOOK LIVE

THE new administration must push for a common tower policy that will allow businesses and entities to boost productivity and consumer service, speakers at the The Manila Times online forum urged on Thursday.

Speaking at the forum titled “Connectivity Resiliency For The Country's Productivity,” Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Undersecretary for Digital Philippines Maria Victoria Castro presented the agency's plans to improve the country's digital economy. The plans included the common tower policy, regulations for in-building solutions, fiber permitting and spectrum management.

Castro stressed the need to upgrade ICT infrastructure like cell towers to strengthen internet connectivity and to address the rising demand for data as online users increase.

She believes the common tower policy will encourage telcos and internet service providers to share cell towers.

The DICT issued the Common Tower Policy in June 2020.

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More cell towers had to be built as demand for internet connections began to grow in 2020.

National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) director Imelda Reodique Walcien said building more towers will also help promote digital competitiveness among businesses.

The Philippines has 543 internet service providers (ISP) and 53 non-ISPs, Walcien said. She attributed the increase in ISPs to the proliferation of apps since the start of the pandemic.

Ella Blanca Lopez, NTC deputy commissioner, said that with the common tower policy, businesses can deliver their services “much easier.”

Globally, the Philippines ranks first in users spending the most time on the internet, with an average of 5 hours and 47 seconds daily, Lopez said. Still, the Philippines needs to ramp up its digital speed to bring it to global levels.

Alberto Espedido, chief technology officer of InfiniVAN, called on the government to rush approval for the installation of the company's fiber optic technology.

“With the current requirements and forecast, we have to expedite our rollout. We really need the support of the government to fast-track the permitting,” Espedido said.

He assured the facilities InfiniVAN will install are designed to support the government's digital growth targets.

InfiniVAN is the first and only ISP in the Philippines with a guaranteed connection speed of not less than 20Mbps and no data cap.

Lopez said the NTC is streamlining its process of allowing companies to increase service coverage.

“We continue to provide assistance to the service providers, meaning we will issue permits on time, we'll guide them to correct applications they have to submit as this means more rollout for entities and more services,” she said.

Following the issuance of the common tower policy in 2020, the DICT, Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA), and other key agencies revised and expanded the Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) No 001, s. 2021 to synchronize its provisions with the Republic Act 11494 or the “Bayanihan to Recover as One Act.”

The JMC aims to reduce delays and streamline the processes to secure permits, licenses, and authorizations of Passive Telecommunications Tower Infrastructures (PTTIs), whether shared or exclusive.

Lopez said that with more telco players coming in, the government has to do more for the telecommunication industry.

“As we go forward, we also need capacity building as well as more budget. We need collaboration and coordination so that we'll have a better communication system,” Walcien added.

For Sen. Mary Grace Poe, one of the issues the DICT and the NTC need to address is the text scams that victimize mobile phone users.

“The unabated surge of text scams has brought further hardship and distress on our people who are already mired in debts. This must stop,” Poe, chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Services, said.

The senator herself said she has received a number of unwanted texts from prepaid mobile phone numbers promising jobs, extra income, incentives and freebies.

“As more rely on digital technology to cope with the hard times, so must we intensify all necessary safeguards against heightened risks that can overturn our people's efforts at recovery,” Poe said.

Despite the NTC's earlier directive to major telcos Globe, Smart, and Dito to warn subscribers against fake jobs from May 28 to June 4, such text messages have persisted with new gimmicks to bait and deceive mobile phone users.

“Hindi natin dapat hayaang patuloy na pagpiyestahan ng mga manloloko at sindikato sa likod ng mga text messages na ito ang mga kababayan nating lugmok pa rin sa hagupit ng pandemya at tumataas paa ng presyo ng langis at bilihin (We should not allow the cheaters and syndicates behind these text messages to continue victimizing our countrymen who are already shouldering the impact of the pandemic and spiralling prices of oil and other commodities),” she said

As of the end of March, Globe had 87.4 million subscribers while Smart had 70.3 million. As of end 2021, Dito reported having five million subscribers.

Poe also urged telcos to step up their efforts to block SIM cards used in criminal activities.

She urged the incoming 19th Congress to take up the SIM card registration bill to help institutionalize protection for millions of mobile phone users in the country.

The 18th Congress passed the Poe-sponsored measure, which was vetoed by President Rodrigo Duterte.

“To most, the mobile phone is their only means to survive, and it shouldn't at all be compromised,” Poe said.

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