FIRING LINE: Faster internet connection soon

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By Robert B. Roque, Jr.

‘Twas a long time coming, but they finally got the public-whipping they needed.

The big bosses of Smart Communications and Globe Telecom couldn’t have turned a deaf ear this time when President Duterte expressed dismay over the quality of their wireless services, choosing to call them out in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 27.

There was no way of sugar-coating his threat to the Top 2 telecoms companies in the country – improve your services in the next five months or be shut down and expropriated! At least, that’s what I heard from the big man in Malacanang.

This was not a work-from-home dad’s customer service call put on hold for 15 minutes or a disgruntled online student’s rambling post on Facebook about slow Internet speeds at Apartment 21-B. If you ask me, the message came across more like a gangland-style threat, anybody a shade less powerful than the President can swing like a wrecking ball.

Now, let’s be fair. Three days later, Globe President-CEO Ernest Cu came to the table at the COVID-19 task force meeting with the President. Cu had the chance to air his complaints about the “many, many years” of red tape when securing permits from different national agencies and local governments.

Cu said telcos need to secure 25 to 29 permits and pay various miscellaneous fees for every tower they build. He said this tedious process for permits would take about eight months to complete and blamed these setbacks for preventing telcos from building more telecom towers to improve their services.

The next day, Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año addressed Cu’s concerns, announcing that the DILG, together with other government agencies, issued a joint memorandum circular to “streamline” the application process for permits to build telecom towers, reducing the end-to-end process from eight months to “less than a month”.

The memo ditched city council resolutions and written consents from homeowners’ associations and condos in the list of requirements. What’s left to secure are the barangay clearance, Unified Application Form for Locational Permit, Fire Safety Evaluation Certificate, building permit, property documents from owners or occupants of registered or untitled lands, and “select ancillary permit and accessory permit requirements”.

Apparently, this solves Cu’s problems and eliminates any reason not to get things done. Globe and Smart need to buckle down to work and race against Duterte’s patience for the next five months and, hopefully, ramp up connection services.

As the country awaits the entry of third telco, Dito Telecommunity, owned by Duterte favorite Dennis Uy, I’m sure Globe and Smart will take the shutdown threats very seriously, taking into account the precedent that befell the country’s largest media conglomerate, ABS-CBN.

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