Gov’t hopes to accredit up to two cell tower companies by Q1 2019

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By Patrizia Paola C. Marcelo, Reporter

THE government has released an initial set of guidelines for its common tower policy, amid hopes that it can accredit as many as two such companies to build common mobile infrastructure by the first quarter of 2019.

Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Acting Secretary Eliseo M. Rio, Jr. and Presidential Adviser for Economic Affairs Information and Technology Communications Ramon P. Jacinto on Thursday announced that they hope to accredit up to two independent tower companies by the first quarter of next year, followed by a six-month building period.

The incumbent telecommunications firms, PLDT, Inc. and Globe Telecom, Inc., will also be consulted regarding their target locations for placement of the towers and poles.

“There is a build-up period of six months, a consultative period, a discussion period with the telcos, also to get their inputs on what locations would be ideal. By September (2019), the rollout will start,” Mr. Jacinto said in a press conference.

Mr. Jacinto said that interested tower companies must have P10-billion net worth with no direct or indirect ownership by the incumbents. The initial guidelines additionally state that companies must also have at least five years’ experience in constructing, owning, or managing at least 10,000 towers in at least one country in Asia.

The policy contemplates a maximum rollout per company of 25,000 over seven years. For the first year, the target is 1,000; for the second year, 2,000; for the third year, 3,000; for the fourth year, 4,000; and for the last three years, 5,000 each. A tower company is expected to invest around $2 billion over the seven-year period.

The Philippines has only 16,000 cell sites, which suggests that the successful tower company must have at least some foreign involvement. Mr. Jacinto has said that improved coverage will require about 50,000 towers.

Mr. Jacinto announced in January that the policy is aimed at providing better services and a level playing field for the entry of the “third player” into the telecommunications industry.

The policy allows telcos to build their own cell sites if they do not get a response from the tower company or companies after 30 days. The previous plan of the government was to prohibit telcos from building their own cell sites once the policy is implemented, but Mr. Jacinto said consultation with the two telcos revealed opposition from PLDT and Globe, who wanted the right to build their own cell sites.

“If they want to build the tower in a certain location, let’s say Globe or (PLDT unit) Smart, and the common tower company does not respond in 30 days, they can build there own tower. So it’s not that absolutely they cannot, when the common tower cannot fulfill their needs, so it’s really fair,” Mr. Jacinto said.

In February, Globe announced that it was in talks with certain parties to form an independent tower company and divest some or all of its tower assets, to help speed up the build and deployment of cellular towers in the Philippines, and as part of its network expansion and optimization plan. It added that it was open to working with PLDT on the initiative. PLDT has said that the company does not see any need to share any of its network assets.

The government is also consider making available 2,000 towers controlled by the now-defunct Telecommunications Office (Telof).

“We are actually offering to whoever will become the tower company — government telecommunication assets. We have a defunct Telof that has 2,000 towers that can become available if the tower companies say this is useful for them so they can have those towers. Right now, these are not operational, these are just standing there… There are government procedures for selling property, we need to look into that,” Mr. Rio said.

Mr. Jacinto said there are four or five foreign companies expressing interest in putting up towers in the Philippines.

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