Battle of the telcos

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    `The President’s attack against the two telcos had been emotional, sweeping and all motherhood statements’

    INTERNET speed is arguably slow and cell sites may be lacking in the Philippines, but we do not see hordes of Filipinos marching down the streets, carrying anti-telco placards, and burning effigies of MVP and JAZA. Even the millennials and those younger who are the most vociferous users of gadgets are not seriously complaining, just waiting for Smart and Globe to shape up.

    But President Duterte made a mountain out of a molehill by throwing caustic tirades at the two telcos, as if the problem of slow internet is more important and more pressing than mass hunger, disease, loss of jobs and livelihood, hundreds of thousands of children missing school this year, and the contracting economy.

    Globe had to retort that it has allocated P63 billion for capital expenditures (Capex) to attain faster network rollout, which includes spillover of Capex commitment from 2019. The company has resolved to stick with this plan even as the COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly eroded its revenues.

    Smart, meanwhile, announced its rollout of 5G services the day after receiving a dressing-down from Duterte. Smart is smarting from being branded by the President as the second half of the “laggard” duopoly. The Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT), the parent company of Smart, has set an even bigger capex at P83 billion for this year.

    For sure, we consumers can appreciate the efforts of both Smart and Globe to give better service, as this will redound to greater profits for them. It would be unfair, therefore, to compare our telecom infrastructure and services to Singapore or Hong Kong (like what Duterte had done in his SONA) given the low levels of capacity and infrastructure we started with.

    The President’s attack against the two telcos had been emotional, sweeping and all motherhood statements. The two telcos countered with just facts and figures to dispute the presidential allegations, especially the charge that they have no money.

    Meanwhile, opposition leader Antonio Trillanes had been given the window of opportunity to hit back at Duterte, saying he did his rantings to favor his friend, Dito Telecommunity, the third telco, who has been encountering problems of delays and technical setbacks.

    This criticism that borders on the malicious is even given credence by another critic, Sen. Grace Poe, who warned on Wednesday that the Dito Telecommunity faces a possible revocation of its franchise should it fail to fulfill its commitments to the government by July next year.

    Poe, who chairs the Senate public services committee, said Dito Telecom has committed to build cell towers enough to cover 37 percent of the country’s population, and provide internet services with a minimum average speed of 27 megabits per second (Mbps) by July 8 this year, but missed this target. An officer said they have 300 operational cell towers, far from the 1,300 they planned to construct for their first-year requirement under their certificate of public convenience and necessity. They have an alibi: the COVID-19 pandemic. So the Department of Communications Technology extended the deadline by six months. Within five years, the telco should be able to cover 84 percent of the population and an internet speed of 55 Mbps.

    With Duterte hitting Globe and Smart, and his critics slamming Dito Telecommunity, there is little doubt that the political contest in 2022 will also be a battle of the telcos.

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