The next revolution
(First of two parts)
I will be in Australia for the next three weeks, so I’ve put together a 2-part piece on what I consider the most important change in the world today: the information technology revolution. This piece looks at the Philippine telecommunication situation and the issues that need to be immediately addressed.
I attended the first Telecom Summit on March 9-10 hosted by the chief of the Department of Information and Communications Technology, Secretary Rudy Salalima. It was a great success, with some real experts talking real issues. Now we have to see if the suggestions made will be implemented. With Salalima in charge I’m convinced they will; he’s a very determined man. But others, including members of Congress, will have to help.
The first test will be the local government units. It takes 25-30 permits and approvals and up to eight months just to approve a cell site—and we sure need cell sites. Do you realize we only have 16,500 cell sites servicing 130 million phones in an archipelago that needs far more than a contiguous land mass does? The contiguous land mass of Vietnam, where there are 125 million cell phones among 90 million people, has 70,000. We need 54,000 more cell sites just to match.
But at a maximum of 2,000 built annually by Smart and Globe, it would take 25 years. We don’t have 25 years, just two and a half. The solution can be summarized in three points: LGUs giving approvals in the seven days Salalima is demanding; phone companies joining forces and putting up towers both share (that automatically doubles the construction rate); and, the tough but essential one, the government helping to fund them (to be built by third parties under contract).
The seven days can be done. The Puerto Princesa government did it for a call center company in one day. A cell site is easier.
Another problem is selfish people, or those saying Nimby: Not in my backyard. If you can’t get a good signal in a village, blame the association for blocking construction of towers. Nimby. Well, if not yours, whose? The claim that it causes cancer or other medical problems has NO scientific evidence to back it. In fact, scientific research has shown that cell site transmissions do not affect human life. As to it being an eyesore, well, that’s all in the mind. As an engineer, I like the look of a tower. If you must, disguise it. But don’t deny people good service they deserve.
The other essential is a national broadband network that gets everywhere. It’s a great pity the network proposed by President Gloria Arroyo collapsed over corruption allegations in 2007. (Incidentally, the corruption case has gotten nowhere in court; it seems no one is guilty. It was dismissed by the antigraft court. What a lousy judicial system we have.) Had it gone forward, we’d have that network now. All our neighbors do.
So we’re 10 years behind, and must move with great urgency. The problem is it’s expensive, particularly because much of the fiber optic must go underwater. It must be a joint undertaking among the government and the telcos. All share the cost, all can use it. The government must be the major financier. Communication is a public service (as defined by the Constitution) and something the government should provide. But private users should help.
I suppose it may need congressional approval, at least for the budget. That’s a worry. Despite the worldwide revolution against the old political ways, Congress still doesn’t seem to have gotten the message. Passage of a bill into law is agonizingly slow. In the 16th Congress only about a dozen measures of national importance became law. The President needs to use his huge public support to force action on critical bills. Otherwise, it won’t happen.
I recommend that Salalima do as much as possible by executive order or any other legally accepted method that avoids legislation.
And when Congress does get involved, it must recognize a reality: Technology is changing the scene so rapidly that what might seem sufficient today won’t be tomorrow. For instance, there’s a bill that would require all SIM cards in both prepaid and postpaid phones to be registered. But what about when cell phones are built in at birth—as they will be with nanotechnology?
E-mail: [email protected] Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.