MANILA, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has offered China the “privilege” to be his country’s third telecoms operator, his spokesman said on Monday, turning to a historic rival to break a longstanding duopoly that has frustrated consumers for years.
The Philippines’ data and voice services rank among the Asia-Pacific’s slowest and most intermittent, and Duterte last year warned providers PLDT Inc and Globe Telecom Inc to shape up or face new competition.
Duterte made the offer last week to visiting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, the latest sign of his pursuit of closer political and economic ties with a country with which the Philippines has a long history of territorial disputes and mistrust.
“The good news is consumers can look forward now to better telecommunications, not just in terms of cellular technology but also in terms of internet speed, as well as access,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque told a media briefing.
“The announcement is that telecoms duopoly is about to end.”
No specific Chinese company had been lined up, Roque said. China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ties with China have warmed under Duterte, who has put aside disputes with Beijing and wants it to play a key role in building and funding urgently needed infrastructure, from highways and ports to railways and power plants.
Duterte recognised that China had the money and technology to make a difference in the Philippines, Roque said.
“Consider also the proximity and the fact that we want to avail of as much as economic advantage that we could, arising from the renewed friendly ties with China,” he said.
PLDT and Globe have been accused of stifling competition and of failing to make necessary upgrades, accusations both have rejected.
Last year, they joined forces to buy prized mobile spectrum for $1.5 billion - the biggest acquisition in the Philippines in nearly three years - from a potential rival, San Miguel Corp, to kick-start telecom upgrades, widen coverage and boost internet speeds. Critics say services are still lacking, however.
This year, content delivery network service provider Akamai Intelligent Platform said the Philippines ranked the lowest in terms of average internet connection speeds among Asia-Pacific countries.
Opening up the telecoms sector is complex, however, as the constitution limits foreigners to owning just 40 percent of a domestic telecoms company, a disincentive for foreign firms to invest in a fast-growing market of more than 100 million people. (Editing by Martin Petty and Clarence Fernandez)