Philippines growth spikes after government cuts red tape
Philippines operators are enjoying a growth spurt thanks to some slashed red tape – but more needs to be done, says one of the country's big two telcos.
PLDT and wireless subsidiary Smart say they have won approval for 22,000 fixed and wireless sites since the government fast-tracked the approval process a year ago.
PLDT said the accelerated buildout in the face of the pandemic challenge had enabled PLDT and Smart to significantly boost network performance.
It quoted Speedtest figures from May showing Smart's average mobile download speed almost tripling from 16.6 Mbit/s to 47.3 Mbit/s over the previous 12 months, with PLDT's fixed download speeds leaping from 27.4 Mbit/s to 67.9 Mbit/s.
The National Telecommunications Commission said the higher network performance was "due primarily" to the fast-tracking of local government permits by the Duterte government.
It cited two major sources of improvement: accelerated permit approvals by the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA), and the decision by the Department of Public Works and Highways to allow operators to deploy on the government Right of Way (ROW).
Vincent Tempongko, vice president for site acquisition at rival Globe Telecom, agreed the permitting process had been streamlined, including the elimination of some permits that used to take months to release – but cautioned that not everyone is on board.
"In general, the permitting process is now much faster but there continue to be selected local government units that do not support and follow the ARTA [decision] and the Bayanihan 2 [pandemic funding] Law," he said.
In Q1 Globe built 318 new cell towers, up 152% from 2020, and upgraded 4,210, double a year earlier.
The faster rollout had helped accelerate take-up on its 5G network, Globe said, reporting 700,000 users at the end of May, up from 620,000 in April and 560,000 in March.
Smart is now calling on the national government to further ease local taxes and regulations.
Smart's vice president and head of regulatory affairs, Roy D Ibay, said "arbitrary regulatory" charges such as "tower fees, inspection fees, and audit fees continue to be major roadblocks for ICT growth."
"Last year alone, Smart spent PHP2.4 billion ($47.6 million) on fees, which could have been spent on actual physical facilities to improve telecom services," Ibay told a seminar on a new data transmission bill.
He said if the new law is intended to help close the digital divide it must ensure that data facilities and fiber find their way to under-served areas.
Regulatory and radio spectrum fees "must be affordable and reasonable," he said, pointing out that the current facility-based spectrum usage charge discourages network rollouts.
Globe and Smart dominate the Philippines mobile market, despite a challenge from China Telecom-backed newcomer Dito Telecom. Globe had 79.8 million mobile subs and Smart 71.8 million at end-Q1.
- Under-cooked Dito Telecom fails early tests
- China-backed incomer Dito starts service in Philippines
- On the eve of launch, Dito battles to renew license
- KKR wades into Filipino telecoms tower market
- Duterte ultimatum galvanizes Philippines telcos
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading