The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) is optimistic of a faster rollout of telecommunications towers as local government units (LGUs) express their support in reducing permitting requirements and procedures for the construction of cell towers.

In the televised Talk to the People of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on 11 August 2020, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo Año reported that 1,502 out of 1,930 pending applications for tower construction for the year 2020 in 55 provinces and 25 cities have already been approved by LGUs.

Secretary Año vowed to continuously monitor the remaining 428 pending applications to ensure their swift approval.

“This is a welcome development in our mission to improve Internet connectivity and access in our country. DICT is grateful to LGUs for their cooperation, and also to the DILG for their support in this endeavor,” said DICT Secretary Gregorio B. Honasan II. “If this continues, then the Filipino people can expect a higher rate of ICT infrastructure rollout in the coming weeks and months,” he added.

In a similar initiative, the DICT, DILG, Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD), Department of Transportation (DOTr), Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), Department of Health (DOH), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), signed on 23 July 2020 a Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) streamlining requirements and reducing procedural delays in securing necessary permits, licenses, clearances, certificates, and other requirements in constructing Shared Passive Telecommunications Tower Infrastructures (PTTIs) or common towers—reducing processing time from more than 200 days to around 16 days.

Under the JMC, agencies and LGUs are required to process, approve and issue permits within seven working days. This is also in accordance with Republic Act (R.A.) No. 11032 or the “Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018”.

Permits and clearances not approved within the prescribed periods will be deemed automatically approved, as stipulated in Section 10 of R.A. 11032.

In line with this, the DICT recently launched its online portal for common tower registration. The new system is DICT’s response to digitalizing the application procedure for registration of Independent Tower Companies (ITC) engaged in the business of establishing or operating one or more Shared Passive Telecommunications Tower Infrastructures (PTTI), commonly known as “common towers”, as provided for in Department Circular (DC) No. 008, series of 2020, or the Policy Guidelines on the Co-Location and Sharing of Passive Telecommunications Tower Infrastructure for Macro Cell Sites and DC No. 011, s. 2020, or the Interim Guidelines for the Processing of Applications for Registration as an Independent Tower Company for the Duration of the Declared State of Public Health Emergency due to COVID-19.

Under the online procedure, applicants must fill out the application form and attach the complete required documents at the ITC Registration Page. The procedure, list of complete documentary requirements, and information on how to qualify as an ITC can be found in the Common Tower Registration Portal at https://commontower.gov.ph/.

With the release of DICT Circular 008 and 011, the JMC streamlining the common tower permitting, and with President Duterte’s call for LGUs and agencies to hasten permits and for Telcos to improve services, coupled with the demand pegged at an additional 50,000 towers in the various provinces and municipalities of the different regions in the country, investor interest, both foreign and local, in the Philippine tower industry remains bullish and has steadily increased with more tower companies intending to participate in the pioneering Philippine tower industry.

In addition to its existing agreements with the twenty-four (24) tower companies, the DICT has received letters of intent from thirteen (13) other tower companies. Around seventy (70%) of these tower companies are foreign-owned. Majority of the tower companies have expressed support and optimism for the Common Tower Policy, the JMC on Common Tower Permitting, and the Duterte Administration’s call to improve Telco services. Many have indicated their desire to focus also on Visayas, Mindanao, and other unserved and underserved areas.

Recent news reports indicate Globe and Smart as already having about 20,000 towers combined. With DITO’s 1,300 towers in various stages of completion, and the DILG’s reported approval of 1,502 out of 1,930 pending applications for tower construction in 55 provinces and 25 cities, the reported figures add up to a potential of about 23,230 towers in 2020 between the 3 Telcos combined. From the 17,000 towers reported in February 2019 to the 23,230 towers by 2020, there is an increase of more than 6,000 towers mostly deployed by Telcos. This increase is a welcome development towards the additional 50,000 towers needed to adequately connect the entire country.

With the Covid-19 pandemic hampering deployment and high capital costs for building common towers on their own, the Telcos clearly need the Independent Tower sector as force multipliers in accelerating overall tower build in the different provinces, municipalities, and regions, if they are to effectively heed the President’s call to improve Telco services in the country by year’s end.

According to recent reports, telco giant PLDT and its wireless unit Smart Communications are set to initially deploy about 200 cell sites pursuant to its agreements with several independent tower companies, a move in support of the Duterte administration’s Common Tower Initiative and its goal of improving connectivity in the country.

Also, DITO Telecommunity recently reported securing common tower agreements with Independent Tower companies, in addition to activating a significant number of sites wherein phone calls and connection to the internet are possible, and putting-up 1,300 towers in various stages of completion.

“The ITC’s are proving their potential collectively as a pioneering sector in the telecommunications industry. With this initiative, we expect a more dynamic competition in the market that will ultimately benefit Internet and telecommunications consumers in the country,” Honasan explained.