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Gov’t OKs rules on common telco tower plan

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) wants to jumpstart a massive program to roll out cell sites across the Philippines and address mobile network gaps that have been the bane of consumers and telco providers.

The DICT released last week its rules covering the first 2,500 out of a total of 50,000 proposed towers as it seeks to “test and pilot the common tower initiative of the government.”

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The publication of guidelines included the locations of the 2,500 sites, including an apparent wish list of more than 650 areas where the incumbent telcos had long sought to establish a presence.

Over half of these “hard to acquire sites” are located in Metro Manila and included gated communities such as Forbes Park in Makati City and Greenmeadows in Quezon City, whose residents worried the radiation emitted from cell sites would have an adverse impact on their health— a belief the telcos said was based on faulty science.

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The rules, while limited in their scope, also outlined incentives for telco operators PLDT Inc., Globe Telecom and the eventual third player, Mislatel Consortium backed by China Telecom, to share cell towers.

The DICT said telcos that voluntarily shared their sites would be allowed to build towers, which would also be shared, in an available government property. Unlike a previous and more contentious set of draft rules, the telcos will no longer be barred from building new cell towers.

Ultimately, the release of the guidelines was meant to start the common tower initiative that had long been delayed.

“We just want to get the ball rolling with these 2,500 sites,” Acting Secretary Eliseo Rio Jr. of the DICT said in an interview. He said it could take a few months before the start of actual construction for the new sites.

The guidelines, however, are vague on the powers at the disposal of the DICT in cases where permitting bottlenecks cause delays— a perennial problem for the telcos when rolling out cell sites.

Rio said new laws would address the issue and that the DICT was seeking an executive order from President Duterte to designate cell towers and other telco infrastructure as projects of national significance, meaning these would enjoy a faster approval process.

For now, the 2,500 sites will serve as a guide for the almost two dozen independent tower companies that have been recognized by the DICT as qualified to participate in the construction of as many as 50,000 towers, valued at $4.4 billion.

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TAGS: Business, Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), telco tower
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