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DICT pursues shared cell sites, skips controversial rules

/ 08:04 PM December 20, 2018

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) is moving forward with a plan to encourage the sharing of cell sites despite placing a controversial common tower policy on hold.

On Thursday, DICT acting secretary Eliseo Rio Jr. signed the first of several potential agreements with interested common tower providers. This will allow them to start formal talks with the telco operators, paving the way for tower sharing.

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“We are telling them that once you have a contract signed [with the telcos], then we will support you, the common tower provider,” Rio said in an interview.

The support will come in the form of helping secure the necessary permits and coordination with the relevant government agencies, a portion of the agreement showed.

Asked about the common tower policy, Rio said the initiative is currently “on hold.”

“This will more or less be a solution while we are trying to finalize a common tower policy,” Rio said.

The DICT signed a memorandum of understanding with a group led by ISOC Infrastructures Inc., owned by businessman Michael Cosiquien. ISOC’s technical partner is Malaysia’s OCK Group Berhad.

ISOC is the same group that submitted a P100 billion offer last July to build 25,000 cell towers within seven years. This will help close the gap between the 70,000 towers industry players said was needed and the roughly 16,000 towers being operated by PLDT Inc. and Globe Telecom at present.

It remains unclear how a change in leadership at the DICT will affect the view toward a common tower policy given the recent appointment of Senator Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan II as Rio’s replacement.

Presidential adviser Ramon Jacinto, whose office is drafting the common tower policy, said he welcomed the agreement with ISOC but added it will “have to comply” with the final rules to be issued in the first quarter of 2019.

“Incoming secretary Greg Honasan and my office will coordinate in issuing the final guidelines,” Jacinto said in a text message on Thursday.

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The creation of a common tower policy, which Jacinto announced early this year, intended to transfer the cell tower building activities of all telco players to independent third-party operators.

Its main purpose was to accelerate the construction of new cell sites, the lack of which has been blamed for spotty mobile services, and to also support the rollout initiatives of the new major telco player.

The policy will benefit new and existing operators since they will pay the common tower builder a lease fee to use their facilities, helping lower capital investments.

It turned controversial, in part, because the draft rules barred the telcos from building their own cell towers, prompting PLDT and Globe to threaten the policy with a barrage of legal cases.

The draft policy of Jacinto has also put his office at odds with the DICT under Rio, who wants to avoid a showdown in court and whose department will ultimately implement the rules.

On Thursday, Rio said they were open to signing similar agreements with all other interested common tower builders. The draft rules proposed by Jacinto wanted to limit the common tower providers to just two companies in the first four years.

The Philippine Competition Commission earlier raised concerns over aspects of the draft policy, including the intention to limit the number of tower companies. /kga

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