Honasan to give leeway for Dito rollout if towers, cable parts from China get delayed

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Secretary Gringo Honasan says the government can provide leeway for Dito Telecommunity's target rollout, as the construction of cell towers and fiber optic cables sourced from China might be delayed due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 26) — The government is open to giving Dennis Uy's Dito Telecommunity elbow room to roll out mobile services as the novel coronavirus outbreak could delay shipments of steel and fiber cables for cell towers. 

Information and Communications Technology Secretary Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan II told reporters on Wednesday that he is willing to accommodate Dito should the third major player find itself in force majeure, or a situation which is out of its control.

"Siyempre bibigyan natin sila ng palugit, hindi tayo ganung ka-strikto [Of course we will give them some leevay, we are not that strict]," Honasan said after inspecting Dito's site in Quezon City. "The law, the regulations are not that rigid."

Last week, Dito said it would only be pushing through with a "technical" rollout by July 8, 2020 — a one-year deadline set by Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) after the network secured the license to run a telco business in the Philippines.

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A technical audit meant getting checked by National Telecommunications Commission if it is on track to provide mobile network services to Filipinos. Commercial rollout — or the distribution of SIM cards to subscribers — would only start by March 2021, Dito said.

The telecommunications company backed by businessman Dennis Uy with China Telecom must put up at least 1,600 towers in the next five months to meet the technical requirements. However, only 600 structures have been finished or are under construction at present.

Network officials admitted that building the remaining 1,000 towers could be tricky as the novel coronavirus outbreak disrupted manufacturing and import shipments from China where it sources steel, as well as fiber optic cables.

However, Dito Telecommunity Chief Administrative Officer Adel Tamano said further delaying the rollout of services would be their last resort. "Unless we have exhausted all possible alternatives, that’s the only time we would even consider citing a force majeure situation," he said.

Dito, once called the Mislatel consortium, paid a ₱25.7-billion performance bond to the government as it committed to provide internet service with a speed of 27 megabits per second to more than a third of the population on its first year of operation. The company earlier claimed it wants to corner 30 percent of mobile subscribers in the Philippines in its first three years.

READ: Mislatel's committed service, coverage 'disappointing' — expert

Busting the duopoly of Smart and Globe has been a campaign promise of President Rodrigo Duterte in 2016.

Honasan said the government can always forfeit the performance bond should Dito fail to deliver.

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CNN Philippines Correspondent Sandra Zialcita contributed to this report.