Telecom firms protest various permits, fees to put up towers
MANILA, Philippines—Telecommunication companies find it difficult to put up towers that will enable them to deliver better signals and Internet service to their subscribers because of the sheer number of permits they need to secure from local governments and national government agencies.
Aside from permits, they also protested that some of the fees that local governments impose on them have no clear basis, and called for greater transparency when it comes to requirements for them to pay up.
The telecommunication companies aired their concerns during a Senate hearing on how to improve Internet access in the country.
This prompted Sen. Bam Aquino, who presided over the hearing, to suggest that the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) post the average Internet speed of cities and municipalities publicly as part of their competitiveness index, to show if they are business friendly.
“These days, in the modern economy, if you do not have good Internet connectivity, it’s difficult to call you competitive or business friendly,” Aquino said.
To improve process
He said this could also spur local governments to improve the process of issuing the necessary permits to telecommunication companies to boost Internet speed which would then improve the business environment in their areas.
During the hearing, the National Telecommunications Commission promised to put up a one-stop shop to house all national government agencies involved in issuing permits for the construction of cell sites.
Representatives from Globe Telecommunications, Smart Communications and Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. told the hearing that they need to secure a lot of permits to build their towers and cell sites, and hoped the process would be simplified.
Derek Lim of Globe said telecommunication companies do not object in principle to paying regulatory fees to local government units, but the basis for these must be transparent and the fees must be reasonable.
“Sadly, we do not see that in many of the local governments we have dealt with,” Lim said.
One example he cited was the tower fee they are asked to pay, with some local government units charging them P200,000 per tower per year.
He said local officials did not explain how this was computed, how the fees would be used, and what local engineers would do to regulate the operation of the towers. He asked if it would cost that much to look at the towers, when the local engineers do not do anything or do not know what to inspect.
Complaints of poor service
But when they resist payment of the fees, their permits to build new towers or renew existing ones are imperiled, and then their subscribers complain of poor service, he added.
Different fees are imposed per area because of local autonomy.
Lim also detailed the permits they need to get before they could start putting up the necessary infrastructure.
One is the consent of majority of the households within a specified range of the cell site or tower. They must also get a barangay resolution approving their application to install the cell site.
They also need a certificate of noncoverage or an environmental clearance certificate from the Environmental Management Bureau.
Another requirement is a zoning clearance either from the local board or the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board.
A height clearance needs also to be secured from the Civil Aeronautics Administration of the Philippines so as not to be an obstacle to aviation safety. Also needed is a radiation evaluation study to determine if the equipment is safe for humans and the environment.
Building permits are also needed. These include mechanical, sanitary, electrical and fencing permits.
If the cell site is in a protected area, a memorandum of agreement with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is required. In case the area falls within indigenous people’s domain, there must be an application for their consent.
After the cell site is completed, there is a need to apply for an occupancy permit with the local government, which is a prerequisite for applying for a local power connection.
Apart from these, the companies have to pay every year for a mayor’s permit to operate cell sites. Fees vary from one local government to another. In other areas, there is a need for special use permit.
The process of securing all these takes anywhere from one to six months, Lim said.
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