BAGUIO CITY –  The Regional Development Council Communications sub-committee chaired by the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Luzon Cluster I Director Leo Ugto met last May 17, 2019 to address connectivity and telecommunication concerns brought up in the 1st Quarter RDC meeting in Bontoc, Mountain Province last March. Mountain Province reiterated in that RDC meeting the long-standing issue of poor internet connectivity in the province.

This is a recurrent concern of all Cordillera provinces due to two factors: (1) the mountainous topography interfering with signals; and (2) the sparse population which telecommunication companies view as a risk for returns on investment. The RDC also acknowledged the concerns of various companies that some private landowners charge rent at higher-than-average costs and that the Local Government Units had stringent requirements in setting up towers.

A nation-wide solution to address the lack of coverage as well as alleviate the burden of having to pay high rent costs is the proposed “Common Tower Policy” which was presented by DICT-CAR in the meeting. The Philippine government will provide lands for telecom companies to put up additional shared towers. The sharing of towers is planned to reduce construction costs and increasing speeds by sharing bandwidth. The plan is part of the National Broadband Plan and addresses related laws such as RA 10844 or the “Free Internet Access in Public Places Act”. Government lands such as school buildings and local government compounds are the primary target locations for these common towers.

Smart Communications, one of the two invited telecommunications companies who attended, reiterated their commitment to working with the government in providing cell and internet coverage. They complained that some CAR LGUs have stringent requirements for application. They also said that there is a need to keep up with changing technologies.

DICT also presented the “Pipol Konek Free Public Wi-Fi Project” which implements RA 10844. As of May 2019, only 7 out of the planned 553 sites in the Cordillera have public wifi access. Benguet and Mountain Province have two sites each while Kalinga has three. DICT plans to integrate the Pipol Konek project with the government’s “GovNet” project in areas with a high number of government establishments. Additionally, GovNet aims to interconnect all government agencies’ internet connections for faster communication, better coordination, and easier access to online services.  According to the National Telecommunications Commission-CAR, as of 2018, there are only 299 cell sites in the region. Baguio and Benguet have over half of these at 155 cell sites.