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Monday, July 22, 2024

Easements for internet connectivity should be lease-free

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“Updating obsolete policies in the emerging digital economy should be proactive, comprehensive, and inclusive”

Access to fast broadband is not a luxury, it’s a lifeline in our digital world.

It’s like a superhighway that connects us to work, school, family and friends.

It brings the world to our fingertips, from the latest news to our favorite shows.

It makes online shopping a breeze and even allows us to consult with doctors from the comfort of our homes.

In essence, fast broadband isn’t just about speed, it’s about enhancing our lives in countless ways.

The internet has become so integral to our lives that access is increasingly seen as a basic human right and was even declared by the United Nations in 2016 as essential for freedom of opinion and expression and added to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

According to GlobalData, the outlook for fixed broadband lines in the next five years is likely to increase to approximately 71 percent, that is if the current digital transformation push by government and the investments in fiber network infrastructure of private telcos are not delayed.

Executive Order 32 mandates the streamlining of the permitting process for telecommunications and internet infrastructure already in effect since the President signed the directive in July.

It institutionalized the continuity of expedited permitting telecommunications towers earlier implemented through a multi-agency joint memorandum circular which requires all agencies and local governments to strictly follow set guidelines aimed at eliminating costly delays.

There is, however, another policy that needs to be quickly updated to address the issue of real estate developers or property owners charging exorbitant lease for the installation of fiber optic cables and other equipment needed so broadband services are available for occupants of their establishment.

This is happening in commercial, office, or residential buildings whether government or private owned.

It’s interesting to compare this with water and electricity providers.

Under the National Building Code, they don’t have to pay leases to developers to install their services and required as an integrated facility in the design of a building.

The same should be for easements needed for internet connectivity.

Though legal and within the rights of private property owners to be compensated for the use of their space, this shows how the reality of broadband services as an essential utility has become an income opportunity not just for private property owners but for government agencies notorious for not paying their utility bills.

In the large malls, the annual cost to lease the space for fiber-optic cables can reach hundreds of millions.

This will definitely add to the operating costs of internet service providers, which will eventually be reflected in the cost for consumers.

Resources spent on lease payments could have been invested in more network expansion and upgrades benefiting more developments and users.

Our co-convenor in CitizenWatch Philippines, former Rep. Kit Belmonte, in a statement urged Congress to remove lease payment for digital infrastructure in all public and private spaces in support of the principle that internet connectivity should be basic utility available for all.

We support pending legislation in the House of Representatives which will amend the 46-year-old building code to be responsive to broadband connectivity demand of a digital economy.

Among the amendments proposed in House Bill 8534 authored by Rep. Joey Salceda is to recognize “that communications and digital connectivity are considered a basic human right and plays a critical role in our nation’s transformation to a digitally enabled and competitive country in the digital global economy” and “provide for all buildings and structure and property developments, a framework of minimum standards and requirements to regulate and control their location, site, design, quality of materials, construction, use, occupancy, maintenance, and ensure connectivity prior to occupancy.”

On the other hand, House Bill 900 filed by Rep. Christian Yap amends the minimum requirements for all buildings to have “Telecommunications facilities such as in-building solutions and fiber optic cabling for high capacity and high-speed requirements.”

Updating obsolete policies in the emerging digital economy should be proactive, comprehensive, and inclusive, taking into account the multifaceted nature of digital transformation and its impact on various sectors of society.

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