Gov't sets rules for telcos to share cell towers

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 10) – The Department of Information and Communications Technology has issued guidelines for its long-delayed plan for telecommunications companies to use common cell towers to provide wider and better mobile network services in the country.

"There is a need to deepen wireless network capacity through such activities as increasing the number of cell sites and other ICT infrastructure in the different regions of the Philippines," according to Department Circular 008 signed by Secretary Greg Honasan which were published this week.

DICT cited the need to keep up with a growing number of mobile internet users, as well as the surging demand in mobile data subscriptions.

Under the rules, companies need to secure a certificate of registration before setting up a cell tower. All towers built, renovated, or upgraded after the approval of the rules "shall provide ample access slots for all MNOs (mobile network operators)."

All private sector antennas, transmitters, receivers, and other components of cell towers shall be open for shared use, except those identified by the regulator as exceptions.

Independent tower companies are authorized to build these cell sites, provided that they are registered with the DICT and have "relevant construction experience" and financial capacity to build these telecommunications structures.

Former Undersecretary Eliseo Rio, Jr. and then-Presidential Adviser on Economic Affairs Ramon "RJ" Jacinto earlier clashed on how to implement common tower rules, with Jacinto earlier insisting that only two contractors will be authorized to build cell towers in the Philippines. Jacinto replaced Rio in the DICT last May.

The agency said there are currently 24 companies registered with the agency.

Meanwhile, existing towers may continue to operate. Subsequent guidelines will be issued regarding their usage.

Telco firms or MNOs like Smart and Globe must now draft their own agreements to share the use of these cell towers, also known as passive telecommunications tower infrastructure or PTTIs.

Common cell towers are deemed as "critical components" for connectivity, with the DICT also authorized to tap the shared towers for its free public wi-fi project.

On Tuesday, the World Bank underlined the need for cheap and reliable broadband and mobile data connections in the country, with e-commerce, online learning, and work-from-home arrangements seen dominating life under the "new normal."

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All deals to use a common cell tower must charge reasonable and competitive fees as monitored by DICT, should be non-exclusive, and must commit to provide network services at par with global standards.

DICT has been identifying locations for its plan to set up 50,000 cell sites in the next seven years, with the move expected to lead to better service at lower cost for mobile services.

Smart Telecommunications spokesperson Ramon Isberto said during the government's Laging Handa briefing on Wednesday that they welcome the guidelines which also allow network operators to set up their own towers for expansion.