DICT, telcos sign agreement to improve services


MANILA — The first national telco summit held by the Department of ICT culminated on the second day with an agreement among the public and private sectors to improve public services even as an advocacy group felt that consumer sentiment was somehow overlooked during the event.

Among the key outcomes of the event was a draft executive order to be submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte to cut processing of permits — long called out by telcos as an expansion bottleneck — to seven days at most. DICT Sec Rodolfo Salalima long announced the intention for the issuance of such an EO, which he first mentioned last year in his first press conference in July.

Both PLDT and Globe have long bewailed that processing of permits at the local government level have hindered them from putting up additional cell sites to service demand, with some areas outrightly rejecting their applications. Salalima even went as far as suggesting that lawmakers should legislate against subdivisions blocking installations of telco infrastructure.

Both telcos discussed during the summit, which happened on March 9 and 10 at the PICC in Pasay City, their continuous roll-out plans and sustained investment to improve coverage, but noted permit applications as a key roadblock.

Salalima said that if the seven-day recommendation is followed, telco services will improve after just six months.

“Solutions with no deadlines are no solutions at all,” Salalima said.

Meanwhile, a study bared during the summit done by UP professor emeritus Epictetus Patalinghug and Wilfred Manuela Jr., Regina Manzano-Lizares noted that the only “realistic” third player at this point is the government.

“The present two-player structure is characterized as fiercely competitive,” the study said. “However, the market realities of capital intensity, sunk costs, and economies of network size prevent a realistic entry of a private third player. Only a publicly-owned third player that builds a ‘last mile’ network that is financially not viable for private operators to build can complement the coverage gap in the present network.”

Salalima has noted that the market has always been ready for a long-sought third player, but added that the new entrant should have deep pockets, along with the needed technical expertise, to survive the industry. Previously, the industry has hosted up to five active players before consolidation and market realities caught up to level the playing field with just two.

To cater to the last-mile needs, DICT also announced a plan to put up a national broadband infrastructure estimated to cost at least P77 billion.

“In served areas we think that this is where there is sufficient competition that government need not intervene and what we need to do is bring in more competition so that the cost is market-based,” said DICT undersecretary Denis Villorente. “On the other hand, for unserved and underserved areas this is where maybe government should be looking at investing or subsidizing the infrastructure rollout.”

After receiving the President’s approval at a cabinet meeting last week, DICT said they will not undergo a round of public consultations before submitting a more detailed proposal in the hopes of starting the project by next week.

Though industry groups generally hailed the first national summit aimed to provide a “no-holds barred” forum to thresh out issues in the telco space, an advocate said more space could have been given to air consumer concerns.

“Solutions are being proposed to push infra roll out which will hopefully increase penetration and access and hopefully quality of service,” said Pierre Tito Galla, co-founder of Democracy.net.ph.

Galla, however, also noted “what seemed to be a deliberate sidelining of consumer viewpoints.”

“Out of two days, consumers only had less than an hour to put across their points, and most of the conversations was for and on behalf of the dominant telco players,” Galla said.

InterAksyon.com is the online news platform of TV5, which is also part of the PLDT group.