‘Crack whip’ vs telcos, NTC told

SEN. Sherwin Gatchalian has urged the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to “crack the whip if you must” on telecommunications companies to speed up the construction of new cell towers to finally address the country’s connectivity needs.

“All the needed mechanisms are already in place to expedite the construction of telecommunication towers to improve internet services following the enactment last year of the Bayanihan To Recover As One Act (Bayanihan 2). I see no reason why we continue to suffer from unstable and unreliable internet connectivity,” Gatchalian said in a statement on Saturday.

Gatchalian, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Services, was referring to the provisions under Bayanihan 2, which temporarily suspended some requirements to streamline regulatory procedures to be able to secure permits and clearances for the construction of telecommunications and internet infrastructure.

Data from the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) showed that as of Feb. 18, 2021, a total of 2,860 permits and clearances in 460 cities and municipalities were approved while 848 permits and clearances in 264 cities and municipalities were pending.

The country still needs additional 50,000 towers to adequately connect the entire country. Currently, there are 20,000 existing towers nationwide.

“Habang patuloy ang pandemya, lumalawak ang pangangailangan natin sa internet connectivity. Mawawalan ng saysay ang pinagsumikapan nating batas kung hindi naman ito naipatutupad. Hindi rin natin ramdam ang naiulat na bumilis na mobile internet speed (While the pandemic is continuing, our need for internet connectivity is widening. The law that we have labored to pass will become meaningless if this cannot be implemented. We do not also feel the reported faster mobile internet speed),” Gatchalian added.

According to Ookla Speedtest Global Index, the country’s internet speed both in the fixed broadband and mobile internet categories continued to improve in February from January 2021.

Meanwhile, Gatchalian is also pushing for the Better Internet Act (Senate Bill 1831), which he co-authored, requiring all public telecommunication entities and internet service providers to increase service coverage and deliver a minimum standard for internet connection speed.

The DICT in January urged President Rodrigo Duterte to push the telcos more, after he warned them in July 2020 to improve their services by December of the same year or face closure.

Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. had said that from the time the President issued his ultimatum until December 2020, the fixed download speed improved by 25.4 percent and the mobile download speed increased by 32.7 percent.

The country’s average download speed in fixed broadband ranked 29 out of 50 countries in Asia, Roque told reporters in a January online briefing, which DICT Undersecretary Manny Caintic attributed to “an increase in tower rollout.”

Caintic said the DICT is urging Duterte “to continue that firm stance and push for the telcos.”