Telco providers, particularly tower developers, are expanding their infrastructure portfolio to take advantage of the government's policy to speed up the permitting process for the industry.

Tower operator EDOTCO Philippines is investing P3 billion for capital expenditures in 2024, as it keeps an eye out for opportunities to improve its footprint in the country.

EDOTCO Philippines country managing director Suraj Narayanan Kutty told The STAR that the company derives confidence from the implementation of Executive Order (EO) 32. He confirmed that the law has reduced the number of permits required to build towers.

Prior to the Marcos administration, Kutty said EDOTCO has to secure at least 15 permits before it can put up a tower in one location. This was slashed by about half with the issuance of EO 32.

'When we joined in 2021, we were easily looking at 15 building permits. Right now, we are looking at probably six to eight, down by half, and that covers end-to-end, from pre-construction to post-construction,' Kutty said.

For tower builders like EDOTCO, this means that they can hasten their expansion programs and provide as many Filipinos as possible with connectivity.

Mobile giant Globe Telecom Inc. also shared optimism for expansion with EO 32 in place, as the telco believes such measures allow the industry to widen coverage.

For 2024, Globe is expected to reduce capex to $1 billion, from $1.3 billion in 2023, as it plans to maximize existing assets and improve cost efficiency.

If there is one thing, however, that industry players want to enhance, it is energization. Kutty said that telco stakeholders are grappling with the elevated cost of electricity supply in the Philippines, and this ultimately affects the prices of connectivity services borne by consumers.

Globe vice president for brand management Raymond Policarpio said that operating in the country is particularly challenging for energy-intensive industries like telecommunications. The Philippines maintains the second-highest industrial power rate in Southeast Asia, averaging $0.12 per kilowatt-hour.

'Just as the telcos need to lay down fiber lines, power companies also need transmission poles to allow services to reach households and buildings,' Policarpio said.

Kutty hopes that the Marcos administration can come up with a similar issuance like EO 32 for the energy industry to attract fresh investments into the country.

'I don't see it as a risk, but I see it as a challenge: energization. We need to see similar concerted effort from government agencies the way they did on the telco permitting. We have done only the first part, but I need to fire up these towers (with energy),' Kutty said.

Kutty said EDOTCO plans to carry out 500 rollouts in the Philippines in 2024. Broken down, these projects will consist of 70 percent tower sharing and 30 percent new construction.

Last year EDOTCO marked one of its largest expansions in the country, acquiring 2,973 towers for P42 billion from telco giant PLDT Inc. Currently, EDOTCO handles more than 3,000 towers across Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

The company, whose parent unit is headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, is open to procuring another batch of towers, but believes PLDT and Globe will maintain their remaining portfolio.

Last July, President Marcos signed EO 32 that reduced the number of permits required to construct telco infrastructure, minimizing the procedures that industry players have to undergo in pursuing their expansion plans.

The EO stemmed from the industry's demand to institutionalize a pandemic measure suspending the requirements for telco permits to accelerate digital development.

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