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Gov’t needs to speed up Internet permits process

SLOW Internet service has long been a problem in the Philippines. Internet speed in the country is reputed to be the slowest in Southeast Asia and among the slowest in all of Asia. As of 2016, over 44 million people (out of our total 100-million population) were reported using the Internet, but complaints about the service persist to this day.

At the recent 2017 Philippine Telecoms Summit held at the Philippine International Convention Center, it was brought out that the country has only 16,300 towers, compared to Vietnam’s 70,000. The reason, Globe Telecom Chief Information and Technology Officer Gil Genio said at the summit, was bureaucratic red tape. It takes at least eight months to complete the approval process for the construction of one cell site and the process involves at least 25 permits, he said.

There are no standard fees among Local Government Units (LGUs) for the construction of towers; fees range from P5,000 to P200,000. Permits have to be obtained not only from city or town government, but also from villages and
subdivisions and homeowners associations. Close to 30 of these in Metro Manila have rejected proposals for cell sites due to fears of health risks, despite radiation safety certificates issued by the Department of Health (DoH).

There is need to speed up the paper work for the construction of cell sites by local governments and other agencies.

The new Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT) could concentrate on this problem. A bill has also been filed in Congress by Rep. Luis Raymond Villafuerte of Camarines Sur which calls, among other provisions, for simplifying the process of getting permits for cell sites.

In the last two years, Internet speed in Vietnam nearly doubled from 2.9 to 5 megabits per second (mbps), undoubtedly because of its thousands of new towers. Thailand doubled to 10.8mbps and Indonesia to 4.5 mbps. As for the Philippines, it climbed from 2.5 to only 3.5 mbps. It could do much better of the problem of getting permits for setting up more cell sites could be quickly resolved by the government.

In the drive to improve Internet access, it will be best to cease playing the blame game and simply see what each sector can contribute to the digitization that is playing an increasingly crucial role in our country’s economic progress. Simplifying the permits process would be a big step that the government can take.