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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

‘Remove lease fees for digital equipment’

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CitizenWatch Philippines co-convenor Christopher “Kit” Belmonte is calling on Congress to pass legislation banning real estate developers from imposing leases on digital infrastructure.

The lawyer and former lawmaker for Quezon City said internet access is a fundamental service that must be made available to all Filipinos.

“Individuals, communities, and societies can no longer function without going online,” Belmonte said. “Connectivity and digitalinfrastructure are basic parts of living and working spaces, as are water and power.”

Two bills at the House of Representatives are seeking to amend the National Building Code of the Philippines, which was issued in 1977.

House Bills 900 and 8534 were filed by Reps. Christian Yap and Joey Salceda, respectively.

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The 46-year-old Building Code does not require water and electricity providers to pay leases to developers to install water tubing or electricity wiring for their services but does not cover telecommunication and connectivity.

“Telcos should be allowed to focus their resources on productive items that would improve their service, instead of burdening their operations with superfluous costs,” Belmonte said.

“Telecommunication firms currently pay leases to commercial or residential building developers so they may install fiber optic cables and other equipment needed to provide connectivity. The annual lease for some large properties and mall developments can reach P200 million for some projects,” he added.

“These unconscionable leases translate into considerable operational expenses that are not matched by subscription fees,” said Belmonte.

“As a result, the windfall of property developers will cause deficits that could otherwise be invested by telcos, in expanding services, human resources, and new technologies.”

“The law should always be revisited to ensure that it reflects current times and responds to current issues,” said Belmonte. “Connectivity should be factored into the project as early as the inception phase.”

House Bill 900 is called “An Act Providing for the Telecommunications Technology Readiness of Buildings and Structures, Amending Certain

Sections of Presidential Decree 1096, Otherwise Known as the National Building Code.”

The bill adds a new section, Minimum Electronic Requirements, in the chapter detailing the Classification and General Requirement of All Buildings by Use or Occupancy.”

According to the bill, telecommunications facilities “such as in-building solutions and fiber optic cabling for high capacity and high-speed requirements shall be mandatory in multi-dwelling buildings, commercial buildings, government and office buildings, public and private schools, and government and private hospitals.”

Meanwhile, HB 8534 asserts the need for the state to declare that it recognizes 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 that all developments should ensure connectivity prior to occupancy.

Telecommunication and ICT facilities are also among the required technical ancillaries for which qualified professionals should be engaged to supervise and inspect.

More importantly, an updated version of the bill provides that like electrical, plumbing and sanitation facilities, building owners/developers “are not allowed to impose any cost, expenses, charges or rent for the use of these facilities not to impose additional requirements that result in added cost or expenses (such as additional insurance coverage) for the provisioning of telecommunications services.”

“Connectivity is a way of life, a requirement so all Filipinos can fully participate in our nation’s digital transformation,” said Belmonte.

“It follows that our spaces should reflect the changing times.

Individuals and communities need to be connected to live, work, communicate, and access services.

Connectivity transforms societies and improves the lives of every member. It allows companies to expand and governments to serve the people better.

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