When President Rodrigo Duterte threatened that he will push for the closure of Globe Telecom and PLDT, Inc.’s Smart Communications during his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA), it somehow became an avenue for the two telco giants to raise their concerns about matters affecting the improvement of Internet services in the Philippines.
Globe President and CEO Ernest Cu, whom Duterte told he would hang to a cell tower, personally went to the Palace to talk to the president and explain what’s preventing the telcos from building more cell sites which are fundamental for the country to enjoy faster Internet speeds.
Cu raised the issue of rampant red tape at the local government units (LGUs), resulting in the tedious processing of numerous permits.
Apart from this factor, there are also homeowners’ associations (HOAs) that mostly do not allow telcos to enter their subdivisions to lay down the needed groundwork, an unaddressed concern existing for many years.
In 2017, Globe pointed out that HOAs’ deliberate refusal to grant telcos right of way for the deployment of broadband fiber optics can actually be considered as a violation of the rights of residents in need of Internet and mobile services which the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has declared a basic human right in 2016.
Come 2020, the problem still persists. Apparently, HOAs are reluctant to have cell towers inside their communities due to a baseless belief that the proximity to such facilities brings health risks, something that the World Health Organization (WHO) has repeatedly debunked.
After Cu’s meeting with Duterte, telcos, somehow, saw the needed support from the government. The Bayanihan 2, yet to be signed by the president, has a provision that mandates the three-year suspension of some permits for the installation and operation of cell towers.
Under the said bill, a referendum supervised by the barangay council will be called to address if HOAs still forbid the establishment of cell towers within their vicinity.
With these at hand, we could only hope that the yet to be established laws in accelerating the installation of cell towers by telcos will be strictly followed.
After all, this will benefit not only the citizens but the country in its entirety, with digitalization now a vital factor in driving economic growth and addressing the demands of new normal brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.