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Open telecom access regime facing a snag

Open telecom access regime facing a snagThe Philippines has one of the lowest telecommunications tower densities in the world,  with less than 20,000 towers serving 100 million people. 

Recent studies indicate that an additional 50,000 towers should be erected to serve the current voice and data traffic. With such a backlog, it is simply illogical to insist that the solution is to place limits on tower building. Given the tedious permit application process just to erect one tower in the Philippines, the argument for the cap is tenuous.

The Philippine Competition Commission has already warned that the draft policy on common towers may be anti-competitive as it allows only two tower companies to operate in the first four years of its implementation.        

“Approving the draft Common Tower Policy in its current form… may raise competition concerns and be in direct contravention to the open access regime that the government is advocating for,” the PCC said in its comments on the draft memorandum circular on common towers.

Several independent cell tower companies are actually eager to come in and help provide the network infrastructure sorely needed by incumbent and new players alike.        

But the proposed two-tower company limit of Presidential Adviser Ramon Jacinto is proving to be a major stumbling block to the delivery of better internet services, given the massive tower requirements in the country and the need for as many companies as possible to come in and build towers immediately.    

How can the Mislatel Consortium of Davao-based businessman Dennis Uy and China Telecommunications Corp., for one, deliver on its commitments to the government and to the public if it doesn’t have enough towers to use for its nationwide network? Mislatel already promised the Department of Information and Communications Technology it would provide internet services comparable to that of Singapore in just five years. It will not succeed without the towers.  

Industry stakeholders are naturally all up in arms against the two-company limit after voicing their disagreement with the proposal, while awaiting the entry of incoming  Secretary Gregorio Honasan into the DICT.

Outgoing DICT chief Eliseo Rio is vehemently against the tower company limit as well, saying that the government should not nurture the viability of selected tower companies when there are already a number of foreign viable tower companies operating worldwide that have shown interest in becoming tower providers in the Philippines.

These foreign tower companies, including American Tower Corp., China Energy Equipment Co., Telenor of Norway, Singapore-based Frontier Tower Associates and IHS Towers, have opposed the proposed limit on tower builders.

“Two tower company licenses does not make sense. If you look at markets that have the fastest rollout, the most number of towers, most successful industries, those are the ones often with no licenses at all. So to limit it to two companies, I think would be a recipe for not having a lot of towers built,” Frontier Tower executive chairman Patrick Tangney said.    

Senator Grace Poe added that restricting the construction of cell towers would be counterproductive to the government’s aim of improving telecommunications infrastructure in the country.  “We need as much towers as we can have, which are compliant to safety and environmental standards,” she said.

Smart bonanza    

Smart Communications Inc. is turning 25 years this year, with a cornucopia of giveaways to be delivered on a monthly basis, ranging from free loads to data to smartphones. 

Topping the promo bonanza is a P25-million grand prize as the company’s gesture of giving back to valued customers for their unequivocal support over the past 25 years. The silver jubilee promo dubbed “Amazing 25” may prove to be another amazing stroke of genius for the wireless unit of PLDT Inc.

Industry analytics firm Ookla, reputedly the world leader in internet testing and analysis, has cited PLDT and Smart for being the country’s fixed and mobile service providers during the first and second quarters of the current year, respectively.

Smart executives claimed they were on track to fulfill their commitment to cover 90 percent of the country’s cities and towns with 3G/4G services by the end of the year.

Another industry pollster, OpenSignal, which specializes in studying the performances of telecom carriers in Asia, reported that Smart garnered a video experience score of 42.2, well ahead of competition in the Philippines and well above the national average. Smart’s performance, OpenSignal concluded, was at par with video experience on US carriers.

OpenSignal’s video experience metric measures exactly what consumers are experiencing in online video watching, using the International Telecommunication Union approach for measuring video quality. It is derived from several underlying parameters based on real-time measurements of video streams from the world’s largest video content providers.

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Topics: telecommunications , Philippine Competition Commission , Common Tower Policy , Mislatel Consortium
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