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New era in telecoms: DICT issues guidelines for telcos to share cell towers

/ 08:28 PM June 09, 2020

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) issued the guidelines for sharing by telcos of cell towers, marking the beginning of a new era in the telecommunications sector.

Years in the making, the rules on the sharing of tower infrastructure will reshape the prevailing business models of telcos, which build and use their own cell sites for their mobile networks.

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The guidelines will also strengthen the government’s overall goal to improve service quality by encouraging the construction of tens of thousands of new towers across the Philippines, where vast areas remain underserved or unserved.

The Inquirer has seen a copy of the rules, which were issued last May 29 and signed by Information and Communications Technology Secretary Gregorio Honasan II. It coincided with the relaxing of strict lockdown rules, which confined millions of people inside their homes and caused internet demand to surge.

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The DICT had said the Philippines needed another 50,000 cell towers on top of the roughly 18,000 sites that telco incumbents PLDT Inc. and Globe Telecom had already built or acquired over the past two decades.

More towers will decongest their mobile networks, translating to better signal quality and faster internet speeds.

Under the guidelines, the DICT allowed qualified independent tower companies to build cell sites to be leased to the telco companies on the “same or reasonably equivalent terms, conditions, fees and charges.”

The telcos themselves will no longer be barred from building new towers—a contentious proposal that was earlier made by presidential adviser and now Information and Communications Technology Undersecretary Ramon Jacinto.

However, all passive telecommunications tower infrastructure that they build after the effectivity of guidelines must provide ample space for sharing with other telcos.

All new installations of equipment such as transmitters and radio systems must also be located in shared towers, although the DICT said it will provide exceptions for cases with clear “meritorious grounds.”

The DICT said independent tower companies must be registered with the department. The companies should also show relevant construction expertise and financial capacity equivalent to “category A” contractors.

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Companies with previous agreements signed with the DICT will be deemed registered under the rules provided they file completed documentary requirements such as business permits and certification that they are not a related party to a mobile network operator.

Beyond spurring the construction of new infrastructure, a tower sharing regime will also aid the rollout of telco startup DITO Telecommunity, which is backed by China Telecom and Davao-based businessman Dennis A. Uy.

Layers of requirements from local government units (LGU) have been a constant drag on the construction of new towers. But the DICT reminded the LGUs that they should adhere to the timelines indicated by the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018.

It said the maximum time for processing and approving permits and clearances for tower construction should be a total of seven working days for village governments, seven working days for LGUs and seven working days for national government agencies. Still, the telcos say it takes anywhere from six to eight months and dozens of permits to build a single tower.

Edited by TSB

TOPICS: cell sites, Communications, local governments, national governments, technology, Telecommunications, towers
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