Community resistance a major hurdle in improving connectivity

MANILA-- National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba has identified community resistance to the installation of cell sites as among major hurdles to efforts to improve connectivity and service in the country.

"Right now, under the existing law, homeowners associations should give their consent before a cell site or a telecommunications infrastructure is put up inside their village or subdivision," Codoba said, addressing the just concluded Philippine Telecoms Summit 2017.

"But these homeowner associations do not give permits, that's why there are no cell sites or telecoms infra in their backyard," he said.

Cordoba noted that in the world's social media capital, there are only 15,000 cell sites covering 140 million phone numbers.

And so it is no wonder that fixed line internet in the Philippines is among the slowest in the world, with efforts to improve telecommunications infrastructure hampered by misplaced fears on the purported damaging effects of cell sites on health.

Currently, the Philippines has among the slowest fixed line internet speeds in Asia Pacific at an average 4.2 Mbps, just above India.

The International Telecommunication Union, the telecommunications body of the United Nations, meanwhile ranked the Philippines a lowly 105th in the world in terms of information and communications technology in 2015.

Curiously, Cordoba noted, those most vocal against cells sites are also the loudest to complain about poor connectivity.

"The problem, too, is that the people who live in these villages are the first ones to complain if they don't have good connectivity," he said.

Telecommunications firms face such problem as homeowners associations disallow the construction of cell sites due to the commonplace fear that they emit harmful radiofrequency (RF).

For instance, in the posh Ayala, Alabang, only a single cell site services the community of 700 hectares. In upscale Makati villages Forbes Park and DasmariAas Village, there are no dedicated cell sites for the two neighborhoods about 300 hectares in size.

"Clearly, there is a lack of connectivity and service inside these villages-and the people who live there are data heavy users. You can also imagine the complaints that we receive from the people who reside in these villages, but the problem is their homeowners associations do not allow the installation of cell sites," he said.

Citing data from telecommunications firms, Cordoba said Globe Telecoms faced the "outright rejection" of 17 homeowners associations across Metro Manila, citing "acceptability issues." It was "difficult to acquire" in 16 other villages, while a single approval still faced opposition from residents.

Smart Communications meanwhile is facing difficulty in acquiring cell site construction permits in a staggering 109 villages across Metro Manila and 32 other localities in Luzon and other key cities in Visayas and Mindanao.

Condominium buildings, which have sprouted around Metro Manila over the last two decades, also present a problem, as the high-rise buildings rely on street-level cell sites for reception.

"The problem with them is that they don't have indoor building solutions while being constructed. And, after being put up, the condominium corporation eventually does disallow such provisions (for better mobile connectivity)," Cordoba said.

At the summit, Dr. Rodney Croft, chair of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) High Frequency Guidelines Project Group, addressed fears over radiation from cell sites, saying research has found no evidence that emissions from everyday technology and infrastructure cause harm.

Radiation is electromagnetic energy that comes from the sun, home appliances, mobile phones, and wifi connection, among others. It is commonly perceived to have detrimental effects on health, among them grave diseases such as cancer.

In his presentation, he cited ICNIRP's long established guidelines limiting RF emissions to safe levels, saying the standards ensure that public exposure to radiation "will be far lower than the lowest levels demonstrated to cause harm."

"By safe, we mean that there is no evidence that anyone has ever been harmed at the ICNIRP guidelines levels," Croft said.

"Again, so long as exposure is within ICNIRP guidelines, there will be no health effects of this," said Croft, making reference to mobile phone towers.

The ICNIRP is an organization that "provides scientific advice on the health and environmental effects of non-ionizing radiation" with the goal of ensuring the protection of people and the environment from radiation exposure.

Its research debunking the harmful effects of radiation is "one of the most extensive public health research endeavors to date."

Croft further said ICNIRP's research found no proof that RF emissions are to blame for cancer and radiation sensitivity.

Source: Philippines News Agency