PLDT in talks to sell 2,000 more towers

THE PLDT group said on Tuesday that it has received preliminary approaches from potential buyers regarding the sale of an additional 2,000 telecom towers.

The group is expediting the sale of the towers and is requiring interested parties to submit letters of intent (LOIs) as a preliminary to striking a formal and detailed purchase deal.

The potential buyers include those that bid on a first batch of towers sold, PLDT, Inc. and Smart Communications, Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer Alfredo S. Panlilio told reporters on the sidelines of the Stratbase Pilipinas Conference 2022.

“If we can arrive at an LOI… it’s just a matter of completing the contract before the yearend,” he added.

The group has sold almost half of its 12,000 telecom towers. Its subsidiaries, Smart Communications, Inc. and Digitel Mobile Philippines, Inc., signed in April sale and purchase deals in connection with the sale of 5,907 telecom towers and related passive telecom infrastructure for P77 billion to the subsidiaries of international telecommunications infrastructure services companies edotco Group and EdgePoint.

“We’ve sold close to 6,000 towers and (are now selling) another 2,000, so we’ll still have about 4,000 towers left,” Mr. Panlilio said.

“After the second batch, we’ll stop. I think the other 4,000 towers… are mostly strategically located. A lot of them are in our premises, so it’s a bit harder to sell them,” he added.

The group is selling its tower assets as part of a transformation strategy, which is also in line with the government’s Common Tower Policy.

The policy calls for more than one telco to have access to towers, thereby increasing the number of subscribers being served by each tower. The government has been encouraging tower sharing to improve cell site density, which is believed to be one of the lowest in the region at 4,000 subscribers per tower.

“The common tower sale is a one-time benefit for us,” Mr. Panlilio said, referring to the gains generated by the sale. “I think, as a company, we need to continue to be efficient by bringing down costs to serve,” he added.

At the forum, Mr. Panlilio noted more opportunities for the private sector to dialogue with the government because of the creation of a Private Sector Advisory Council. He said the group was formed to support the new administration in meeting its objectives of economic growth, job generation, improved government service through digitization, universal healthcare, food security, and the improvement of tourism and infrastructure.

Aboitiz InfraCapital, Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer Cosette V. Canilao noted that the private sector continues to push for the review of policies in order to enhance the business environment.

Christian Razon Gonzalez, executive vice-president and chief risk officer at the International Container Terminal Services, Inc., said supercharging foreign investment in manufacturing will require the government to make strategic decisions on infrastructure.

“In order to drive the manufacturing industry or attract foreign investment in manufacturing, you have to have a privatization and infrastructure program that’s driven by a broader strategy,” he said.

“Right now, infrastructure and digitization are done piecemeal and in isolation. Someone has an unsolicited proposal over there. Someone wants to build something over here. The government wants to invest there, for what? For what purpose? Where is the master plan for creating industrial zones in areas that are already connected to global partners? Where is the master plan to create infrastructure in places that will later become industrial commercial areas meant to be connected to the rest of the world?,” he said.

“Unless we start thinking based on a broader infrastructure plan and move out of this isolated system of privatization and building infrastructure, frankly we will not accelerate foreign investment nor manufacturing.”

Hastings Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc., has a stake in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls. — Arjay L. Balinbin