Duterte: Third telco provider must be in by March 2018

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 19) — President Rodrigo Duterte ordered government agencies to ensure that the country's third telecommunications provider, a Chinese-backed telecom venture, will be in operation by March 2018.

"I have instructed the DICT and the NTC to fast-track the entry of the third telecom player to foster competition in the market. I want this implemented during the first quarter of 2018," Duterte said in a statement on Tuesday.

The DICT is the Department of Information and Communications Technology while the NTC stands for the National Telecommunications Commission which regulates and supervises the country's telecom services.

He warned the country's judiciary against throwing impediments to the entry of the third player, which was not named in the statement.

"I do not want the courts to interfere and prolong this process," the President said.

"Do not issue any TROs or injunctions. This is a matter of national interest for the benefit of the public," Duterte added referring to Temporary Restraining Orders.

The President gave specific instructions to all government agencies and local government units to approve all applications and licenses within seven days upon the completion of requirements.

"If the permits are not issued within seven days, the permits are deemed approved," Duterte said.

The move follows through on an offer President Duterte's made in bilateral talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Manila on November 15. Duterte offered China a chance to enter the telecoms industry in the country as a third player.

Malacanang said on December 10 that the Chinese government has chosen China Telecom.

China Telecom will own 40 percent of the third expected player, while a consortium of Filipino companies will share in the remaining 60 percent, said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque in a press briefing in Malacañang Tuesday.

But some lawmakers have pointed out there were legal hindrances to having a foreign provider.

Article XII, Section 11 of the 1987 Constitution limits foreign ownership in public utilities "to their proportionate share in its capital" and mandates that "executive and managing officers of such [a] corporation or association must be citizens of the Philippines."

The limitations in ownership cover telecommunication services.

When asked about concerns that the entry of a new telecommunications provider is being "rushed," Roque said "It is being rushed because we need desperately to have better telecoms in this country."

This will finally break the duopoly, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez earlier told CNN Philippines' The Source. The market in the Philippines has been dominated by two players - Globe Telecom Inc. and PLDT Inc.

Read: Trade Secretary: Up to a year before new telco enters

The President has been vocal against the state of the internet in the Philippines, saying the only way to improve internet speed is to introduce competition.

Read: PH slowest internet in Asia-Pacific, but there is hope - report

Roque noted that each telecoms provider had investments from foreign players. "They always have partners who are foreign," he said.