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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Group seeks Palace rules on setting up internet infra

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A consumer advocacy group calls for the immediate issuance of an executive order that would spell out the guidelines on the setting up of telecommunication towers and other internet infrastructures in the country.

“Two Joint Memorandum Circulars (JMCs) have enabled us to achieve respectable progress in the past two years,” said Orlando Oxales, co-convenor of CitizenWatch Philippines.

“But these JMCs will expire in July 2023, and we cannot afford to lose momentum in our pursuit of greater connectivity and digital transformation,” Oxales said.

The Private Sector Advisory Council (PSAC) and the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) earlier expressed similar concerns over the JMCs.

“In just a span of 18 months, the results of the JMCs became evident,” Oxales said.

“They were able to significantly improve the processing time to secure permits: for telco towers from 8 months to 16 days, and for other internet infrastructure from 2.5 years to just 2.5 months,” he added.

The JMCs were able to cut down the number of permits from 13 to eight, and the number of other documentary requirements from 86 to 35, Oxales noted.

“Telco coverage substantially improved. A total of 7,000 towers were erected in just a span of 18 months, bringing the total number to 29,700 from 22,700,” he said.

The advantages did not take long to follow. From 71st place globally in October 2021, the Philippines climbed to 45thplace in terms of the speed of fixed broadband in November 2022. Ranking in terms of mobile internet speed also improved from 93rd in October 2021 to 80th in November 2022.

“The direct results of the JMCs are undisputable,” Oxales said. “This shows we only needed to do things more efficiently in order to see a drastic improvement.”

The JMCs were an offshoot of directives from President Rodrigo Duterte to improve telco services.

“I can still remember the televised reports on that meeting where Mr. Duterte went as far as to tell the telco executive that he would hang him from one of the cell towers,” Oxales said.

“Globe president and CEO Ernest Cu then said there would be no cell towers from which to hang him. He spelled out for the President the main reason for poor telco services — plain red tape.”

Oxales cited Cu’s response that there was inordinate bureaucratic delay, as telcos needed to secure an extreme number often repetitive permits for one cell tower. They also needed to shell out money for different miscellaneous fees, tower fees, and special use permits, all of which were not standardized.

To address the multi-agency red tape issues, JMC no. 1 series of 2020, or Streamlined Guidance for the Issuance of Permits, Licenses, Certificates for the Construction of Shared Passive Telecommunication Tower Infrastructure, and JMC no. 1 series of 2021, or Streamlined Guidelines for the Issuance of Permits and Clearances for the Erection of Poles. Construction of Underground Fiber Ducts and Installation of Aerial and Underground Cable and Facilities to Accelerate the Rollout of Telecommunication and Internet Infrastructure was issued for the compliance of all parties involved in the permitting process.

The circulars were jointly issued by the Anti-Red Tape Authority, the Department of Information and Communication Technology, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Health, Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development, the Food and Drug Administration, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, the National Telecommunications Commission, and the Bureau of Fire Protection.

The PSAC and the ARTA however, warned that compliance to the two JMCs might stop and reversed with more red tape if these are not made into a permanent executive policy.

“We are in complete agreement with the PSAC and ARTA on this one,” said Oxales.

“It is not difficult to imagine how much better we would have performed if all LGUs and agencies concerned complied with the JMCs. Only an executive order will have the effect of a law which in turn will ensure sustained compliance and enforcement of the guidelines,” he added.

“At this point in our digitalization journey, to miss the opportunity to institutionalize the elimination of red tape and other bureaucratic hurdles, so that we can improve our telecommunication and internet coverage, would be a huge setback in our drive to become a competitive digital economy.”

“President Marcos himself has acknowledged the need for such a transformation, and I believe fast action on this Executive Order will be a strong message to all parties involved to further expedite the building of the country’s digital infrastructure,” Oxales said.

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