telecommunications companies

PLDT, Smart push for ‘affordable’ regulatory fees for quicker network rollout

Gelo Gonzales
PLDT, Smart push for ‘affordable’ regulatory fees for quicker network rollout
Some fees, such as tower fees, inspection fees, and audit fees, continue to be 'major roadblocks for ICT growth,' says Roy Ibay, Smart's head of regulatory affairs

PLDT and its wireless subsidiary Smart said it was calling for more “affordable and reasonable regulatory fees” to quicken the rollout of its networks.

Smart vice president and head of regulatory affairs Roy Ibay, in a recent webinar on the Open Access in Data Transmission Act, said that some regulatory fees imposed by some LGUs, such as tower fees, inspection fees, and audit fees continue to be “major roadblocks for ICT growth.”

“To be able to provide equitable and faster access to our services in priority rollout areas, there must be affordable and reasonable regulatory and radio spectrum fees,” Ibay said, adding that last year Smart spent P2.4 billion on fees that could have been spent on actual physical facilities that improve network quality.

The Open Access in Data Transmission Act represents new legislation that looks to fast-track and lower the cost of deploying broadband facilities. It is filed in the Senate under Senate Bill Nos. 45, authored by Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto and Senator Grace Poe, and 911, authored by Senator Bong Revilla.

The bills seek to lower the barrier of entry to encourage more players in the data transmission and telco industry to foster competition, and in the end, provide better consumer services that reach more of the underserved.

Grace Mirandilla-Santos, the webinar’s main resource person and lead policy researcher for broadband infrastructure and cyber security under the Coalitions for Change Program of the Asia Foundation Philippines, said the unavailability of broadband infrastructure fuels the digital divide.

She said many regions continue to be underserved or unserved, with internet use dipping below 40% outside the NCR. More than 60% of barangays in the country do not have a cellular tower, and over 70% do not have access to fiber optic cables. The situation is especially dire in some regions such as the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, where only 1% of barangays have access to basic broadband facilities.

Ibay also noted a change in the computation of spectrum users fee could encourage faster rollouts. He said that a per kHz, per population computation may encourage rollouts faster than a per station, per kilohertz computation.

PLDT and Smart’s network rollout across the country form a large part of PLDT’s capital expenditures, which totaled P460.8 billion in the last ten years.

PLDT also said that it has secured around 22,000 fixed and wireless permits as of June 2021 since the government fast-tracked permit approvals for passive telecom tower infrastructure or tower sharing last year. But it said other initiatives, such as rationalization of permits and fees for fiber optic rollouts, have not been issued yet.

PLDT also credited the Anti-Red Tape Authority’s issuance of a Joint Memorandum Circular that fast-tracks the issuance of permits, and the Department of Public Works and Highways’ Department Order No. 29, which allows telecommunications companies to occupy a portion of the government Right of Way. The order also helps telecommunications companies to perform timely maintenance on infrastructure. – Rappler.com

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Gelo Gonzales

Gelo Gonzales is Rappler’s technology editor. He covers consumer electronics, social media, emerging tech, and video games.