By Beting Laygo Dolor, Contributing Editor

After clinching a contract to erect some of its towers in Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) camps, the country’s newest telecommunications company is seeking to build base stations in public schools.

Dito Telecommunity said last week that it was negotiating with the Department of Education (DepEd) to build or co-locate base stations in the country’s vast public school network.

If the agreement can be worked out, Dito would be able to build facilities within school premises while providing the DepEd access to “immediate internet connection,”
Rodolfo Santiago, Dito chief technology officer, told local media in an online press briefing.

The internet connectivity is important for the Education department since the country’s public schools were forced to adopt blended and distance learning this year in the absence of a coronavirus vaccine.

Public schools are set to resume classes on October 5.

Under the learning scheme, students are forced to attend online classes from home with the use of tablets, laptops or PCs.

According to Santiago, Dito is negotiating with DepEd “to allow us to co-locate our base stations in some of their facilities. We’re hoping that this is a mutual opportunity because we would be able to provide coverage to areas that will need it. DepEd, on the other hand, will have immediate connection and immediate internet service.”

Receipt of the Dito proposal was confirmed by the DepEd, which said it had also received similar proposals from other telcos – clearly referring to Globe Telecom and PLDT/Smart – and a common tower builder ISOC Holdings to co-locate, erect towers and facilities, inside public schools.

DepEd’s legal affairs is evaluating the proposals, even as the department said it was “open” to the deal, subject to due diligence and safety of students, teachers and staff.

Education Undersec. Alain Pascua who heads the review committee told local media it was also important to optimize gains for the government. He said, “the common proposal there is to co-locate their towers inside the schools. We are open to such kinds of agreement, as long as the safety of students, teachers and personnel, that’s non-negotiable.”

Pascua added that they were exercising due diligence on the matter so that the government and the youth will not be at a disadvantage.

Under Dito’s proposal, the schools where they will set up base stations will receive internet bandwidth, SMS, data and other services, including shared power from telco towers.

Pascua said there were a lot of other benefits offered but he did not give specifics.

It was also not clear if there would be financial considerations in the proposal.

With the Dito-AFP pact, there was initial confusion when the AFP said there would be no payments made, with only “free service” offered by the new telco.

Dito, however, clarified that there would be rental payments involved in the AFP’s allowing towers to be built inside its camps.

In the case of DepEd, the base stations can only be built in schools that occupy between five and 10 hectares, but not in the metropolitan areas which are generally much smaller.

Aside from the AFP and the DepEd, the Department of Information and Communications Technology also has a government-to-government proposal to facilitate co-locating deals.

The Dito pact with the AFP was finalized earlier this month but has been questioned by various quarters over spying concerns. This is because Dito’s principal partner is state-owned China Telecom.

One retired Supreme Court justice called the agreement “dumb,” while opposition senators raised the specter of the country’s national security being compromised.

Dito chief administrative officer Adel Tamano sought to alleviate such concerns by saying that the AFP had already prepared stringent protocols that do not allow foreign nationals from performing sensitive technical work inside military camps.