PLDT, Smart push for rationalized fees to improve Internet access

PLDT and its wireless unit Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) are calling for affordable and reasonable regulatory fees to facilitate network rollouts in unserved and underserved areas of the country.

In a recent webinar on the Open Access in Data Transmission Act hosted by the Senate Economic Planning Office (SEPO) in partnership with the Office of Senator Nancy S. Binay and the Senate Committee on Science and Technology, Smart VP and Head of Regulatory Affairs Atty. Roy D. Ibay said that new legislation that aims to genuinely address or bridge the digital divide must ensure that data facilities and fiber find their way to serve municipalities in areas that need adequate coverage.

“If the goal of this bill is to ensure universal internet or data coverage, it must avoid the trap of not setting out the objective in the law and ensure that data facilities or the much-needed fiber finds its way in the unserved and underserved areas,” Ibay said.

Ibay added that regulatory and radio spectrum fees also play a role in ensuring quicker rollouts.

“To be able to provide equitable and faster access to our services in priority rollout areas, there must be affordable and reasonable regulatory and radio spectrum fees,” said Ibay, adding that the prevalence of arbitrary regulatory fees imposed by some LGUs, such as tower fees, inspection fees, and audit fees continue to be “major roadblocks for ICT growth.”

Ibay also pointed out that a uniform spectrum users fee based on a per kHz per population will encourage the rollout, instead of the prevailing wireless broadband formula that discourages and punishes deployment of more wireless facilities in using a per station, per kilohertz computation.

“Last year alone, Smart spent Php2.4 billion on fees, which could have been spent on actual physical facilities to improve telecom services,” he said.

PLDT and Smart’s relentless network rollout across the country form a large part of PLDT’s capital expenditures, which totaled P460.8 billion in the last ten years.

To date, PLDT operates the country’s most extensive fiber infrastructure, at more than 511,000 kilometers. This also supports Smart’s mobile networks, which now cover 96% of the population from Batanes to Tawi-Tawi.  

Since the government fast-tracked approvals of permits for passive telecom tower infrastructure (PTTI) last year, PLDT and Smart have secured around 22,000 fixed and wireless permits as of June. However, the equally important rationalization of permits and fees for fiber optic roll outs have yet to be issued.

Among government initiatives that have helped speed up the telco rollout are the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA)’s issuance of the Joint Memorandum Circular fast-tracking the issuance of permits and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH)’s Department Order No. 29 (DO 29), which allows telecommunications companies to occupy a portion of the government Right of Way (ROW). DO 29’s issuance also assists in ensuring the timely maintenance of PLDT’s fiber infrastructure as well as Smart’s cell sites.

These initiatives are aligned with the group’s long-standing commitment to help the Philippines attain the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG #9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure.