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‘Third player’ selection will not wait for liberalization bill — DICT

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REUTERS

THE Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) will not wait for the passage of the law allowing for higher foreign investment in the telecommunications industry, and will stick to its timetable for naming a third player by midyear.

“We have to push through with the schedule, as the President wants a third player ready,” DICT acting Secretary Eliseo M. Rio, Jr. said in a phone interview last week.

“If ever, the foreign companies that will partner with the local players can then increase their investment if the law is passed,” he added.

The government expects to choose a third player by the first week of June at the latest. The DICT said the operations of the third player can begin before the end of the year.

Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian has said that the third player may seek to await the bill liberalizing foreign ownership in industries providing public services. He said he expects the measure to become law before Congress goes into recess later this month.

Under the Public Services Act or Commonwealth Act No. 146, foreigners are only allowed a maximum 40% stake in industries like telecommunications, requiring them to find local partners.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte wanted a third telco chosen within the first quarter, but the DICT extended the timetable in order to attract more bidders, while fine-tuning its selection criteria.

The DICT is set to release a second draft of the terms of reference for the selection criteria, and has signalled a reweighing of its criteria in favor of wide coverage and fast Internet connections, rather than its initial preference for levels of committed financial investment and a net worth of P10 billion, after feedback from interested parties and consultations with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). — Patrizia Paola C. Marcelo