PLDT, Globe signal opposition to common cell tower policy

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THE telecommunications industry’s incumbents, PLDT, Inc. and Globe Telecom, Inc. said they oppose government plans to ban them from building cellular sites as part of its “common tower policy”.

PLDT Chairman, President, and CEO Manuel V. Pangilinan said the telcos should be allowed to continue building cell sites, while Globe legal counsel Froilan Castelo said that there is “doubtful” legal basis for the policy.

“If the government wants to do it, it’s entirely up to the government to build its own towers. I think that’s their plan. I believe we should be allowed to build towers pursuant to the requirements of PLDT or Smart. If they’re willing to lease the towers to us, we might lease the towers that we need from them,” Mr. Pangilinan told reporters on the sidelines of a PLDT launch on Feb. 6.

He added that PLDT would want “flexibility” in selecting where to lease or build cell sites. “We just need flexibility to say, in areas where there are no towers we could lease, we should be allowed to build.”

Mr. Castelo said that there legal questions to the policy.

“The legality of it is really doubtful. Number one, as I said, you are creating a monopoly and monopoly is frowned upon in our existing laws. Number two, we are authorized by Congress to put up our own networks, to put up these cell sites. We are empowered by Congress and that’s an act of Congress and only Congress can amend our franchise. Malacañang cannot do it by themselves and it’s really natural for entities like us to have our own network because we have our own brand of service and unique way of serving our customers and offering services. We have to have our own network,” Mr. Castelo told reporters on the sidelines of a Globe briefing on Feb. 6.

The government said in December that it plans to implement a common tower policy, which will require current telecom operators to lease cell towers from tower companies instead of building their own sites. The policy is aimed at providing better services to the public and leveling the playing field with the entry of a third player. Guidelines are set to be released this month.

The country only has 16,000 cell sites. It needs about 50,000 for better coverage, according to Presidential Adviser on Economic Affairs and Information Technology Communications Ramon P. Jacinto.

PLDT and Globe have cited red tape as a barrier to building more cell sites.

Globe Telecom said in a statement last week that it has initiated discussions with “independent third parties” for the establishment of an “independent” tower company to help speed up the build and deployment of cellular towers in the Philippines.

Mr. Jacinto said on the plan of Globe: “The operators will not be allowed to own any stake in the independent tower company or companies. Otherwise, it will no longer be independent. In some countries where there are many telcos, this is possible. In the Philippines, the very idea of an independent tower company is to take away the burden of investing and building towers from the telcos so they can invest their funds and concentrate their energies on improving their service (upgrading their equipment) and enable them to channel extra funds to the less profitable underserved areas which the duopoly has failed to serve.”

“The duopoly was the first to admit it cannot build enough towers. Allowing it to own equity gives it undue influence over the smaller players and would give them leverage to influence the policies and management of the independent tower company. Again, the telcos should wait for the guidelines first.”

Hastings Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc., has a stake in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls. — Patrizia Paola C. Marcelo