The local government units (LGUs) have been pushed to the limelight by the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) and are at the forefront of bringing essential needs to the communities. Some were praised for their swift and positive response, the others falter below expectations.
With the pandemic not going away soon, many Filipinos grapple with the idea of the "new normal" and what it means to earn a living, get an education, and be social despite physical distancing.
This again posed another challenge to the LGUs with regard to their comprehension of the rollout of telecom and internet services in their areas. Before COVID-19, the LGUs took the brunt for the slow rollout due to the complex permitting process. A good number of LGUs actually refuse the entry of any telecom construction due to various reasons.
"The internet has become an essential part of our new way of life, especially with the prospects of the new normal like work from home and E-learning. It is imperative especially these times of the new normal that we start addressing the challenges in building cell sites so we can provide the 1st world internet quality we all aspire for," said Atty. Froilan Castelo, General Counsel at Globe.
Demand for internet services in the country has definitely risen, especially in residential areas for many reasons. Amongst them are employees working from home, students doing e-learning, entertainment, and streaming videos to stay connected with friends and family, ordering food and shopping online, using digital payments, online banking, and much more.
“We appeal to LGUs especially the barangay leaders to rethink the way they view permits to enable building the right amount of infrastructure to best serve their constituents. If they allow just one oppositor in a barangay to stop the permitting process, then it's a disservice to the entire city, not just the barangay," said Castelo.
“Homeowners Associations are likewise a source of delay and the inevitable loss of connectivity. Homeowners should stop using arguments about health risks because for many years these arguments have already been laid to rest by the World Health Organization (WHO) the same institution we rely on today with the ongoing pandemic," Castelo added.
The Philippines suffers from having very low site density compared to other countries due to lack of cell sites in relation to the number of internet users. The Philippines is behind India, China, Indonesia, and Vietnam when it comes to cell sites to internet users ratio. According to Tower Xchange’s 2019 3rd Quarter report, there are at least 17,850 cell sites in the Philippines.
On the other hand, the latest data from We Are Social show that internet penetration in the Philippines stood at 67% in January this year. The country now has 73 million users on social media. This brings the users per site ratio at 4,089 users that are sharing one cell site.
Vietnam in comparison has 90,000+ cell sites. This is one of the major reasons why internet speed in many countries is faster compared to the Philippines.
Because of this reality, Globe cites the support and foresight of some LGUs who have been spearheading the movement towards digitalization of their communities including Makati, Manila, Pasig, San Juan, Cainta, Baguio, San Juan Del Monte in Bulacan, and Iloilo. Provinces such as Pangasinan, La Union, and Bataan have also taken the first steps in uplifting the digital experience of their residents. By doing so, they are able to take advantage of technology in their seats of government like city halls and, more importantly, in community hospitals as the pandemic rages on.
“We remain hopeful that more LGUs will realize the need to fast track Information and Communication Technology (ICT) network expansion. The new normal demands better connection, better service and better experience as more people stay at home to work. Continuing to do otherwise is a great disservice to the Filipino people,” Castelo said.
Globe recently reported at least a Php 2 billion drop in CAPEX spending versus 1Q 2020, which totaled Php10.7 billion due to the impact of Covid-19. The company initially committed to spending P63 billion in 2020 for its network expansion program.