26 October 2021 – The Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA), along with other key agencies, vowed to continue improving the Philippines’ internet speed with the signing of a new Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) on poles, underground fiber ducts, and cable laying.

JMC No. 1, Series of 2021, titled the “Streamlined Guidelines for the Issuance of Permits and Clearances for the Erection of Poles, Construction of Underground Fiber Ducts, and Installation of Aerial and Underground Cables and Facilities to Accelerate the Roll Out of Telecommunications and Internet Infrastructure,” was signed by all signatory agencies on Monday.

The issuance aims to provide guidelines to streamline the processes and requirements when it comes to application for permits and clearances for the erection of poles, construction of underground fiber ducts, and installation of cables and facilities along national, local, and subdivision roads, including pavements and sidewalks.

This is seen to further expedite the rollout of telecommunication infrastructure and service projects, leading to faster internet connectivity.

Secretary Jeremiah Belgica, ARTA Director General, welcomed the signing of the new JMC, saying that it would help the government continue with the momentum it set on improving the country’s internet speed.

The ARTA chief also credited the agency’s continuous streamlining efforts in the telecommunications sector to the country’s improved internet speed as evidenced by the latest report of Ookla, a speedtest global indexing company.

The report showed that the Philippines is now at the 72nd rank out of 128 countries when it comes to mobile download speed as of September 2021.

This is a notch higher from the country’s ranking in August and a huge leap from its initial rankings in August 2017, when Ookla first began, where the country was at the 100th spot for mobile download speed.

Meanwhile, the Philippines ranked a notch lower in terms of fixed broadband speed at the 64th spot out of 181 countries as of September 2021, compared to its August 2021 rank at the 63rd spot. This is still a big improvement from its initial rankings in August 2017 at the 94th spot for fixed broadband speed.

“This is really timely now because now, we have this JMC that we are really excited to roll out. We are very thankful to all the government agencies, local government units, and private groups that worked with us in drafting this issuance,” he said.

“This is also great news for the Duterte administration as faster connectivity is shaping up to be one of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s legacies before his term ends,” he added.

Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez, who is also the chairman of the Ease of Doing Business and Anti-Red Tape (EODB-ART) Advisory Council, also commended the Authority for the JMC and said that these reforms are attracting more investors to venture into digital infrastructure.

Other signatory agencies include the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), National Electrification Commission (NEA), Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), and the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC).

The JMC provided standards in processing Excavation Permit, Sidewalk Use, and Traffic Management clearance when it comes to the erection of poles and construction of underground fiber ducts; for securing Height Clearance Permit (HCP) for the erection of new poles, including guidelines when it is required to be secured, documentary requirements and processing time; and for processing Homeowners Association Consent and/or local government unit Clearance for Erection of Poles or Construction of Underground Fiber Ducts, including documents, requirements, and processing time.

It provided that there must be a Single Excavation Clearance for the erection of poles or construction of underground fiber ducts across all poles or ducts in a series.

The issuance also stated that applicants must ensure that the poles to be constructed contains an imprint or pole tag indicating the name of the applicant or the owner of the pole.

All LGUs are ordered to create a One-Stop Shop for Applications for Excavation Permit, Sidewalk Use, and Traffic Management Clearance.

Applicants for cable laying works shall only be required to submit to the One-Stop Shop established by the LGU an Affidavit of Undertaking and a copy of the authority from the owner of the physical infrastructure, undertaking to be liable for damages that may be caused by the cable laying works, according to the JMC.

The issuance also enumerated the documents that must not be required from applicants in securing appropriate notices and authorities for laying of cables on existing poles, underground fiber ducts, and other physical infrastructure.

This includes a Building Permit; Business or Mayor’s Permit; Sangguniang Barangay Resolution/Barangay Council Resolution; Homeowner’s Association Consent, Consent from Adjacent Lot Owners, and other community clearances; Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) or Certificate of Non-Coverage (CNC) if the proposed site of erection or construction is outside an environmentally critical area (ECA); and Certified True Copy of NTC Provisional Authority (PA) or Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) or Certificate of Registration to Provide Telecommunication Services (CRPTS).

LGUs are mandated to institute regular planning meetings and coordinating mechanisms with Covered Entities and private stakeholders to encourage single excavations and “dig once” efforts for the erection or construction of improvements to national, city/municipal, and subdivision roads.

This was provided to reduce the scale and number of repeated excavations related to road projects for the installation and maintenance of broadband infrastructure.

The JMC also provided for the prohibition of anti-competitiveness activities. Persons who own or control access to poles and other physical infrastructure, including rights of way, are required to provide and maintain access to such poles and other physical infrastructure on a non-discriminatory basis and on an equivalence of inputs basis, meaning those seeking access to the same facilities and services will be provided the same terms, conditions, prices, levels, systems, processes, and time scales.

All local government executives and their respective Sanggunians are required to enact an ordinance adopting the provisions of the JMC or amend their respective ordinances to conform to the new issuance in their jurisdictions.

An Oversight Committee on Telecommunications and Internet Infrastructure will also be formed. It will be composed of DICT, ARTA, DILG, DHSUD, DPWH, CAAP, NTC, ERC, NEA, and PCC.

The drafting of the JMC took only three months. Prior to this, ARTA also led the signing of the Revised JMC No. 1, S. 2021, titled the “Revising and Expanding Joint Memorandum Circular No. 01, S. 2020 or the Streamlined Guidelines for the Issuance of Permits, Licenses, and Certificates for the Construction of Shared Passive Telecommunications Tower Infrastructure (PTTIs).”

The original JMC on PTTIs, that was signed on 23 July 2020, paved the way for the decreasing of the number of permits needed from 30 to eight, the requirements from 86 to 35 and the processing time from 241 to 16 days.

It also led to the release of at least 33,748 permits in the telco sector as of September 2021. Of this figure, 28,331 are from PLDT/Smart, 3,560 are from DITO Telecommunity and 1,857 are from Globe.

These issuances are in line with ARTA’s flagship initiative, the National Effort for the Harmonization of Efficiency Measures of Interrelated Agencies (NEHEMIA) Program, a sectoral based inter-agency streamlining effort that aims to reduce 52 percent of processing time, costs, requirements or procedures within 52 weeks in 2020.

The telco sector is among the five focus sectors for the first phase of the program.