PH telcos struggle for right to provide better service
John Matthew Cruz
As the world goes full speed ahead in the digital economy, the Philippines is hampered by so-called health issues from cell sites.
A global authority in radiation safety has reaffirmed the findings that proximity to cell sites does not pose any health risk, contrary to what many homeowner associations (HOAs) in the Philippines believe.
Dr. Rodney Croft, chairman of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) High- Frequency Guidelines Project Group addressed key stakeholders at the recently-held Philippine Telecommunications Summit early this month.
There are no risks, only benefits in the deployment of cell sites to meet the country’s growing requirement in digital connectivity, Croft emphasized.
“We have no reason to think that anyone getting exposed to cell site towers is going to be adversely affected in terms of their health. Large amount of research has failed to find any evidence that anyone has been hurt just because they were exposed to these telecom facilities,” Croft said during the conference.
Health Assistant Secretary Dr. Agnette Peralta, a member of the Main Commission of ICNIRP noted the latest data on cell site signals. “The Philippines standard was made even lower than the established guidelines—up to 4 times lower—and the exposure is only thermal or heat”.
ICNIRP is recognized as a collaborating non-governmental organization by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO). It aims to protect people and the environment from adverse effects of non-ionizing radiation. It also develops and disseminates science-based advice on limiting exposure to non-ionizing radiation (NIR).
Globe Telecom has taken up the challenges in building cell sites, noting many HOAs oppose cell site proposals due to alleged health hazards.
The country badly needs to build new sites if it wants to overcome signal problems and access to internet services, the telco said.
Today, the Philippines has 16,400 sites serving 129.4 million mobile customers, the lowest site density compared to its Asian neighbors, the company said.
“We hope that our stakeholders will come to terms with the varied issues besetting the industry. At this time, when customers’ demand for bandwidth and coverage are increasingly greater, we really need to build the right amount of infrastructure if we ever want to experience first world internet in the country,” said Globe Senior Vice President for Corporate Communications Yoly Crisanto.
More developed economies such as the United States prohibits the denial of permits for cell sites due to health hazard claims.
Aside from having to deal with villages that reject cell site proposals, Globe is also having difficulties in establishing right-of-way access in subdivisions in the deployment of broadband fiber optics.
Globe Chief Information and Technology Officer Gil Genio said the company is experiencing permitting issues for right-of-way and cell site deployment in the following villages: Corinthian Gardens, Dasmarinas Village, Magallanes, Las Vista, Greenhills North, Corinthian Hills, Alpha Village, Pentagon Village, Capitol Hills Golf Subdivision, Xavierville 1, Loyola Grand Villas, Montgomery Place, Valle Verde 3, Valle Verde 4, Ayala Heights, Capitol Homes, Vista Real 1 & 2, UP Campus, Don Antonio Royale Estate Subdivision, Woodside Homes, Rolling Hills Subdivision, Hobart Homes, Don Antonio Heights, Alta Vista Village and Xavierville 3, Hillsborough, Forbes Park, Bel-Air, San Lorenzo, Green Meadows, Fruitville, JEE Village, BF Homes, Merville, South Bay Garden, Concepcion, Modesta, Jaybee, St. Mary’s Subdivision, Vista Real Classica Subdivision, Meteor Homes, Valle Verde 1, Kings Vill Executive Village, Smile Citihomes Condominium, Thomas Homes and Vista Rio.
“Globe is confronted with challenges in establishing right-of-way for the deployment of broadband fiber optics. We remain optimistic, however, that with government support we will soon be able to work out an arrangement with the HOAs concerned,” Genio said.
He said some of the HOAs are too slow in addressing the company’s right-of-way applications, keeping the telco from addressing customer demand for high-speed internet service.
Others reject right-of-way application. Still, others demand that Globe work out a co-location arrangement with the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) for the joint use of electric poles.
Most of the time, however, Meralco isn’t amendable to such an arrangement, Genio said.
“By standing in the way of our efforts to build more cell sites, these HOAs effectively favor one service provider over the others. Thus, they are complicit in monopolistic practices. This is contrary to public service laws since Globe must comply with the same public service laws if a customer asks for service,” Genio said.
Permitting challenges with various HOAs prompted Globe to seek support of its customers residing in uncooperative villages through an open letter published in major broadsheets. Globe emphasized that “given the enormity of the task of providing reliable internet access and sufficient bandwidth to support your evolving digital lifestyle, it has become imperative for us, your service provider, to seek your support so that we can work together to secure approvals and clearances from your HOAs and barangays.”
Globe launched last year an initiative to create an internet superhighway by rolling out 2 million home broadband lines with speeds of at least 10 Mbps by 2020. Such initiative supports its commitment to improve fixed internet in the Philippines.
Last year, it rolled out over 260,000 home broadband lines with plans to deploy 400,000 ultra-fast broadband lines by end 2017.
The Department of Information and Communications Technology, the Department of Public Works and Highways and the National Telecommunications Commission signed at the recent Telecom Summit a memorandum of agreement on right-of-way concerns.
A technical working group will review and recommend appropriate revisions or amendments to existing guidelines on right-of-way, particularly in establishing fiber optic cables, cell sites and similar infrastructure and amenities.
Specifically, the technical working group will propose amendments to applicable rules and regulations to address issues and problems that beset telcos whenever they roll out ICT infrastructure and facilities. The proposal will be submitted to the DPWH for consideration.