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Next DICT chief cool to lowering spectrum user fees

By Arjay L. Balinbin, Senior Reporter

SPECTRUM USER FEES (SUF), which telecommunications companies described as excessive, are unlikely to be lowered under the Marcos administration, as the government needs to boost revenue collection to cope with the crisis, the next chief of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) said.

“That’s part of revenue generation for our government. We’re a bit short of funds due to the pandemic and since we’re in a fuel crisis, the prices of goods are rising. We’re expecting an energy crisis also soon, DICT Secretary-designate Ivan John E. Uy said in a mix of Filipino and English during a recent BusinessWorld interview.

The country’s major telecommunications services providers PLDT, Inc., its wireless arm Smart Communications, Inc., and Globe Telecom, Inc. said last year that the spectrum fees were becoming excessive.

Spectrum user fees are collected annually from public telecommunications entities (PTEs), or those engaged in the provision of telecommunications services to the public for compensation.

For Mr. Uy, the government has to maximize income generation. “The spectrum is a limited asset. Once it is given or sold to one group, it cannot be sold or used by others. Of course with the limited resource, the government has to maximize the generation of those income,” he added.

PLDT and Smart expected to spend P2.4 billion on spectrum user fees in 2021, similar to the previous year’s expenditure, according to Roy Cecil D. Ibay, Smart Communications vice-president for regulatory affairs.

The proposed measure, which was approved by the House of Representatives and transmitted to the Senate on Sept. 22 last year, seeks to adopt a license-free, zero SUF policy in line with “best international practices.”

It also aims to protect public interest by limiting the use of outdoor Wi-Fi frequency access points or base stations and links to the government and duly enfranchised public telecommunications entities. The Senate failed to pass its counterpart measure.

Globe has said it expects that this policy will increase public access to Wi-Fi technology and, eventually, lower the cost of telecoms services for the public.

“When spectrum prices are set too high, operators are likely to invest less in their networks, which impacts the quality, affordability, and reach of services,” Globe General Legal Counsel Froilan Vicente M. Castelo said in a statement.

He said the telco has been actively pursuing the lowering of spectrum user fees with the National Telecommunications Commission, an attached agency of the DICT, and Congress.

The DICT under the new administration will work more closely with the private sector to pursue reforms and achieve the government’s goal of providing Filipinos with affordable, reliable, and inclusive internet, Mr. Uy said.

“It will be very collaborative. It’s a partnership. The government cannot work on its own. It has to work very closely and in synergy with the private sector,” he said.

Mr. Uy was Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (PCCI) corporate secretary when he was tapped by President-elect Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. to head the DICT.

“So that’s what we’re saying, government-private sector partnership. I was tapped by the government, but I came from the private sector, especially from the business community, which is the PCCI, the largest business organization in the country,” he said.

Hastings Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc., has a majority stake in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls.

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