Information and communication technology (ICT) played a central role in the provision of government services in the Philippines during the pandemic. Government agencies worked to develop software that would enable them to fulfil their mandates through computers or smartphone screens. The innovations include a contact tracing application, StaySafe.PH, for the Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT) and Relief Agad, a Department of Social Welfare and Development application that facilitated cash assistance distribution to social amelioration programme beneficiaries.

Hastening technology for Philippine smart cities Aris L. Gulapa
Aris L. Gulapa
Founding Partner
Tel: +63 917 817 2747
Email: aris.gulapa@gulapalaw.com

While the need for innovative ICT solutions in governance may have accelerated due to the pandemic, a shift towards e-governance is not a nascent concept. On the national government level, in 2019, the DICT released the E-Government Masterplan of 2022, which outlines the DICT’s plans to achieve the goal of a “one digitised government”.

An ICT innovation that has gained traction across local government units and government agencies is the development of “smart cities”. Although the term smart city has yet to be operationally defined in the Philippine context, a common element that cuts across all the proposed definitions is that smart cities, at their core, leverage new and disruptive technologies to address a broad range of urban problems.

Smart city initiatives have sprouted across the country. During the Fourth Asean Smart Cities Network Annual Meeting, the Philippine government expressed its commitment to finish six smart city projects, the command centre upgrade and e-government services in Manila, the bus rapid transit system and digital traffic system in Cebu, and the converged command and control centre and intelligent transportation and traffic systems with security in Davao.

Another notable smart city project is the highly anticipated New Clark City, which is touted to be the country’s “city of the future”. While the relevant disruptive technology will differ, depending on the smart city, it is clear that ICT plays a key role in all these projects.

A barrier, however, to implementing smart city projects is the lack of ICT infrastructure necessary to support these ambitious projects. The 2019 National ICT Household Survey, conducted by the DICT, found only about half the barangays – the smallest geographical administrative unit in the country – have telecoms operators. Only three of 10 barangays have fibre optic cables installed, and only about 13% have free public Wi-Fi.

Hastening technology for Philippine smart cities Charmaine Rose K. Haw-Lim
Charmaine Rose K. Haw-Lim
Managing Partner
Tel: +63 917 893 5661
Email: charms.haw@gulapalaw.com

This lack of infrastructure is said to be the result of, among other things, the burdensome permit process imposed on constructing infrastructure necessary to provide telecoms services.

To hasten construction of ICT infrastructure, the DICT issued department circular No. 008, or the “Policy guidelines on the co-location and sharing of passive telecommunications towers infrastructure (shared PTTI) for macro cell sites” (the common tower policy).

The common tower policy aims to adopt policies for sharing ICT infrastructure implemented in other countries, minimising the unnecessary duplication of infrastructure and achieving a significant reduction in delays and cost for infrastructure development. The policy also encourages the growth and development of independent tower companies (ITCs) as a pioneering sector for the birth and development of a robust ICT environment.

An ITC refers to a “private entity duly organised and existing under the laws of the Philippines … engaged in the business of establishing or operating one or more shared PTTIs”. To operate, the ITC must first obtain a certificate of registration from the DICT.

Hastening technology for Philippine smart cities Maria Isabelle J. Poblete
Maria Isabelle J. Poblete
Associate
Tel: +63 917 862 5899
Email: isabelle.poblete@gulapalaw.com

To further ease red tape surrounding construction of ICT infrastructure, the Anti Red-Tape Authority, jointly with several government agencies, issued Joint Memorandum Circular 1, 2020, which prescribes a streamline for the application of permits and licences, significantly reducing the approvals necessary for construction of ICT infrastructure.

In February 2022, a bill amending the Public Service Act to ease foreign equity restrictions on public services was ratified by congress and is now pending signature by the president. The new act removes telecoms from the list of activities classified as public utilities, which are subject to the 60% Filipino ownership requirement.

While the legal issuances are recent, they are welcome developments and will certainly attract more investors, domestic and foreign, into the ICT sector in the Philippines.

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Law.asia subscripton ad red 2022