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Friday, July 19, 2024

Immediate implementation of EO on digital infrastructure sought

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A CITIZEN advocacy group has lauded the issuance of an executive order (EO) streamlining the bureaucratic process for the establishment of telecommunication and other internet infrastructure, but also urged the government to immediately and strictly implement the EO for the benefit of ordinary consumers nationwide.

“Upgrading our digital infrastructure to global standards will empower our government, industries, and most of all, our people to be competitive and excel in a highly digitized global economy,” said lawyer Tim Abejo, co-convenor for CitizenWatch Philippines.

“EO 32 is a responsive policy move that will hopefully cut out unnecessary bureaucratic red tape that has delayed the building of telecommunications infrastructure needed to deliver faster and reliable broadband services for all,” Abejo noted.

The EO, signed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on July 4, intends to address the administrative bottleneck of securing permits for telco infrastructure.

Excessive, redundant, and circuitous permitting and license requirements have been blamed as the cause for the slow rollout of telco towers and fiber networks, and consequently causing poor telecom coverage in many places around the country.

“Telcos used to deal with a bureaucratic gauntlet every time they applied for permits to establish towers and other infrastructure in local governments,” Abejo said.

“Their hands were tied by all these requirements. And yet it was them [the telcos] that got the ire of the public when the services were poor,” he added.

EO 32 institutionalizes a previously issued joint memorandum circular issued by ten government agencies prescribing the same streamlined process, but which lacked the force and effect of law. It also expired this month.

The circular yielded concrete results in terms of shortening the timeline for establishing a telco tower, drastically bringing down the number of documents and signatures required, and the number of days for processing.

“In several statements, President Marcos himself has said he wants to enable the Filipino people to participate in the digital transformation of the nation,” Abejo said.

“Moving forward, we hope that EO 32 will push all the ongoing digital infrastructure projects such as the DICT’s (Department of Information and Communications Technology) long delayed Luzon Bypass Infrastructure Project and the cable landing stations of the 12,800-kilometer Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN), that when activated, will lower the cost and improve the speed of broadband services,” he said.

“We cannot afford to have spotty and uneven access to internet services if we want to develop a productive and innovative digital workforce instead of just being heavy users and consumers of broadband services,” he said.

Abejo lauded the Private Sector Advisory Council and the Anti-Red Tape Authority for successfully pushing for the issuance of the EO.

“We saw how technology helped us survive the toughest days of the lockdown three years ago,” Abejo said, “There is no turning back, only to move forward, and to move fast,” he said.

The EO covers all processes related to setting up, fixing, operating, and maintenance of Shared Passive Telecommunications Tower Infrastructure (PTTIs); and putting up poles, laying down aerial and underground cables and facilities, underground fiber ducts, ground terminals, and other telecommunications and Internet infrastructure and facilities that transmit digital data and telecommunications signals.

The order now requires government agencies and local government units to comply with the set of guidelines for the issuance of permits, licenses, clearances, certifications, and authorizations of telecommunications and Internet infrastructure projects.

The EO also specifies the needed permits and said no others shall be required in the construction, installation, repair, operation, and maintenance of telecommunications and Internet infrastructure.

The EO also mandates all cities and municipalities to establish a One-Stop Shop for Construction Permits and to implement a Zero Backlog Policy in all applications for permits and clearance covered by EO 32.

“Full and immediate implementation of the EO will sustain the country’s initial gains in digitalization, and will allow more Filipinos to become digitally empowered,” he said.

“Government agencies, local government units, and their employees now have no choice but to do things a bit differently from how they have been traditionally performing their tasks,” said Abejo.

“The economic empowerment that will be stimulated by a well implemented National Broadband Program will positively impact the productivity of enterprises and livelihoods at all levels of society,” he added.

“As we anticipate the DICT’s timely action on the Implementing Rules and Regulations, we call on all relevant government agencies, all local governments, and communities relevant to strictly comply with the streamlining provisions of EO32,” Abejo said.

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