Poe: RJ Jacinto's cell tower duopoly plan to violate telcos’ franchises

MANILA, Philippines – Senate public services committee chairperson Grace Poe said the government’s planned duopoly on the construction of cell towers nationwide infringes on Globe and PLDT’s congressional franchises.

Poe said this in a statement on Saturday, January 5, in reaction to the conflict between outgoing Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Secretary Eliseo Rio Jr and Ramon “RJ” Jacinto, Presidential Adviser on Economic Affairs and Information Technology Communications.

“We need as much towers as we can have, which are compliant to safety and environmental standards. Restriction could limit the number of towers that may be built during the period, which would be counterproductive to the government’s aim of improving telecommunications infrastructure in the country,” Poe said.

“To limit it to two tower companies could also infringe on the right of the telcos with congressional franchises to build their own infrastructure,” she added.

As early as October 2018, Poe had slammed the move.

“Dito sa cell towers, mayroon kasing isang nagsuggest sa Presidente yata o sa DICT na dapat ay isang kompanya o dalawang kompanya lang ang puwedeng magpatayo ng cell towers. Kalokohan ‘yon. Dapat kung sinong puwedeng magtayo ng cell towers, basta nasa regulasyon, ay magtayo para naman walang monopolya nito. Kung maraming cell towers, mas gaganda ang signal natin," Poe said in a committee hearing in October.

(About the cell towers, someone suggested to the President or to the DICT that only one or two companies should be allowed to construct cell towers. That's nonsense. Any firm that could build  towers, as long as under regulation, should be allowed to do so to ensure there would no monopoly. If there are many cell towers, our signal will improve.)

Jacinto, through a Memorandum Circular, is pushing for a policy that will allow only two independent tower companies to build and share their towers for use of Globe and PLDT, as well as the incoming 3rd telco player in the industry.

Rio, in a Facebook post, said the “anti-competitive” proposal would “surely be challenged by telcos in court because it potentially violates” their legislative franchise, which allows them to build their own infrastructure. He said a legislative franchise has an effect of a law and it could only be amended by another law, not a mere circular.

Poe provided the media a copy of Jacinto's letter to Rio, wherein Jacinto slammed the DICT chief for their differences in opinion on the Common Tower Policy.

Government should get their act together

With this, Poe called on the agencies “to get their acts together” and urged Jacinto to “pause and listen” to the strong opposition from many stakeholders.

“First, we urge the government bodies on board to get their acts together. There should only be one voice on this matter, otherwise, it would send confusion to the telcos and the public,” Poe said.

“Second, while the draft Memorandum Circular on the common tower was said to be duly heard, the strong opposition and the number of stakeholders against it should prompt the proponents to pause and listen to ensure it would be free from legal hurdles,” she added.

Citing TowerXchange, an independent community for global tower industry, Poe said Asian markets with the highest number of cellular towers in the region implement a common tower policy that allows for more than two firms.

This policy, she added, would encourage competition and provide affordable rates to consumers. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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