By Patrizia Paola C. Marcelo, Reporter

THE government will implement a common tower policy, which will require current telecom operators to lease cell towers from tower companies instead of building their own sites.

Presidential Assistant for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Ramon Jacinto and Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Officer-in-Charge and Undersecretary Eliseo M. Rio, Jr. yesterday announced this policy, aimed at providing better telecommunications services to the public and leveling the playing field with the entry of a third player.

“The solution that the Cabinet came up with,…there’s a Cabinet decision to implement a common tower policy, meaning to say, operators will co-locate in a common tower,” Mr. Jacinto said in a media roundtable yesterday.

“At present, the capital expense of the operators like Globe [Globe Telecom, Inc.] and Smart [Smart Communications Inc., wireless unit of PLDT, Inc.] is huge for common towers. While initially they may be shocked by this policy, I think they know that they will appreciate this later on because they will be able to free the capital expense and the headache of building towers and concentrate on operations and updating their radios to provide radio service.”

“The tower company will have to build. They really cannot build any more towers, they can build towers pero walang radyo. They can’t locate radio except in the common towers once it is announced that it’s been implemented,” Mr. Jacinto also said.

The guidelines will be rolled out next month, while agreements with companies are eyed by the last quarter of the year. Mr. Jacinto said actual implementation may take place in the last quarter of the year, or early next year.

“One tower should be able to fit maybe three or four players, or even more later on. So this also paves the way for a level playing field for the third player,” he said.

He added that the government is looking at “about three or four players” to build the towers. They will use their own funds at no cost to the government.

Mr. Jacinto cited one interested company, American Tower Corp. “We are open to.. three or four, not just one. But American Towers wants, they are willing. They have money, they have $50 billion to invest.”

Construction of the towers however, can be done locally to reduce costs.

“We can build these here, to reduce costs of towers,” Mr. Rio said.

Mr. Jacinto said the Philippines needs about 50,000 more towers for better coverage, with each tower costing around $100,000. The country currently has only 16,000.

Incumbents PLDT and Globe have cited difficulties in getting permits for building cell towers, when Mr. Rio posted in a social media site that the lack of cell sites constructed by the telco is a primary reason for slow and costly Internet services in the country.

PLDT Head of Public Affairs Ramon R. Isberto, sought for comment, said: “We are deferring comment until we get clarification.”

Globe, general legal counsel Vicente Froilan M. Castelo said in a statement: “As telco, we are required and must have our own network. Each telco has a specific design of its network to provide services to its customers. We urge the government to use this tower company to build the cell sites and corresponding backhaul in underserved areas so that we can provide telco services to these customers as we have been wanting to for years.”