A consumer advocacy group is calling on local government units (LGUs) and electric cooperatives across the country to remove barriers to broadband connectivity, saying that such choke points deprive the people of tangible economic opportunities.
“This is not a technology or even a capital issue, but more of a bureaucratic bane,” said lawyer Tim Abejo, co-convenor of CitizenWatch Philippines. “It is something we can address swiftly and effectively with enough political will and commitment.”
Abejo acknowledged existing efforts by the national government and the private sector in introducing change to the bureaucratic processes, but said implementers at the grassroots level play a major role in translating policy to actual reality.
“There have been laudable developments in terms of crafting policies that specifically encourage the establishment of telco infrastructure,” Abejo said. “But apparently there are still administrative blocks at the site level that are delaying the powering up of telco towers.”
According to Abejo, the LGUs have the discretion to adopt streamlined processes for establishing telco towers and other infrastructures in their area. Meanwhile, the electrification of telco towers already in place hinges on the efficiency of electric cooperatives to deliver power.
“You can have all the equipment in place, but if they are not electrified, they might as well be white elephants,” Abejo said.
Non-standardized processes, delays, confusion in obtaining permits, resource shortages, inflexible timelines and inconsistent fees – these are some of the challenges to the energization process of telco towers identified during a recent workshop conducted by the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) with the country’s telco players held at the Globe Telecom Tower in Taguig City.
Representatives from the telecommunications industry and tower companies attended the workshop held May 19. The workshop was held in consideration of Section 15 of Republic Act 11032, also known as the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018.
The participants agreed that improving coordination, standardizing requirements, and reducing delays are crucial for streamlining the process and accelerating the expansion of the country’s digital infrastructure.
“We hope the President will soon sign the executive order on telecommunications infrastructure development to institutionalize the fast processing of permits and licenses relevant to digital infrastructure projects,” Abejo said.
The EO will, among others, spell out the guidelines governing the establishment of telecommunication towers and other internet infrastructure, based on initial gains realized from two Joint Memorandum Circulars issued in 2020 and 2021 but will expire end of next month.
“Those two JMCs have enabled us to achieve substantial progress in the past years,” said Abejo. “We were able to significantly cut down the number of documentary requirements, number of permits needed, and the processing time for the applications.”
“A nation cannot be truly empowered if the opportunities and advantages are concentrated in one area, sector, or group of people,” Abejo said.
“We should harness cooperation between the public and private sector, and this means all levels of government from the national to the local levels. The sooner we can roll out a truly nationwide access to broadband services, the faster our economic rebound will be.