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Telcos scramble to catch up with capex plans after Duterte's promise to fix red tape

Telcos scramble to catch up with capex plans after Duterte's promise to fix red tape

MANILA, Philippines — After the Duterte administration promised to fix excessive government red tape, telecommunications companies are now in a mad rush to fulfill their investment plans this year in a bid to make up for the delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

For new telco player Dito Telecommunity, less bureaucratic constraints mean it can now catch up with the construction of 1,300 cell towers that the company needs in order to deliver its promise to provide a minimum speed of 27 Mbps with 37% network coverage on its first year. 

In a public advisory on Friday, the Dennis Uy-led firm said lands that will be acquired for the construction of its telco infrastructure have already been "predetermined." The company tapped four "vendors" to assist in site acquisitions, namely Huawei, ZTE, Nokia and Udenna Infrastructure, the document read.

"These vendors and their agents have been provided authorization letters and identification," the company said, adding a warning of a legal action against people "misrepresenting" themselves as agents of Dito or its vendors to landowners.

"Dito has disclosed the identities of these Vendors and their agents to the respective local government units (LGUs)," it added.

Last month, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año reported that out of 1,930 permit applications submitted by telcos to 80 LGUs this year to build new cellular towers, 1,502 of them were already approved. This was after processing time was cut to an average of 16 days from 241 days previously. To do this, some licenses are no longer required.

The reform immediately produced successful results. On Thursday, incumbent Globe Telecom Inc. said it secured 190 permits from 85 LGUs in August, of which 37 were given "in record time." The Ayala-led firm also put up 32 new towers in several barangays in Quezon City in the past three months and made 635 site upgrades to support its LTE capacity in the city.

The scramble to approve telco permits came after President Rodrigo Duterte berated LGUs for their sluggish approval of permits needed to build new cell sites and improve services. As it is, the Philippines is falling behind its Southeast Asian neighbors in terms of telco infrastructure. 

The problem in permitting is so severe that even Duterte’s first solution to the slow telco network, a new player, is facing the same hurdles.  Dito was forced to push back by another six months its technical launch supposedly held early July after failing to build the required number of cell sites.

Last July, Rodolfo Santiago, Dito’s chief technology officer, said that out of the 1,300 target cell sites that the company targets to build, 300 have already been finished while 500 have towers erected but are yet to have support facilities installed.

These sites are self-built and are located on private properties, Santiago said. Construction of the target sites can be completed by October this year, he added.