Telco startup Dito Telecommunity was forced to slow the rollout of network infrastructure in Metro Manila and Luzon after a lockdown was ordered to halt the spread of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Dito, backed by China Telecom and Davao-based businessman Dennis A. Uy, said it was continuing to build its network and construction activity was ramped up outside Luzon, which has been under an enhanced community quarantine since March 17 this year.

The company was responding to an Inquirer request for an update on its upcoming technical launch on July 2020.

“At this point, construction and infrastructure work in NCR (National Capital Region) and the rest of Luzon have been scaled down and focus has been given to work that can be done remotely and safely,” Dito chief administrative officer Adel Tamano said in a statement.

“The Dito Telecommunity rollout is continuing as best as we can during this COVID-19 pandemic and is currently assessing how best to proceed with the mandated technical launch in July of 2020,” he added. The technical launch means the start of internal monitoring of its commitment to cover 37 percent of the country’s population with a minimum average speed of 27 megabits per second during its first year of operations.

By the end of its fifth year, Dito promised to cover 84 percent of the Philippines and offer a minimum average speed of at least 55 mbps.

The technical launch differs from the rollout of commercial services to subscribers, which could come as late as March 2021.

Metro Manila and urban areas in Luzon are key markets in ensuring Dito meets its popu­lation coverage targets.

“Let me assure the public that we are very much aware of the pressing need for world-class connectivity that the Filipinos truly deserve, which this global pandemic has made even more evident; and are doing all we can to meet our commitments,” Tamano said.

On Tuesday, Department of Information and Communications Technology Undersecretary Eliseo Rio Jr. said Dito might not invoke force majeure, or protection due to unforeseen events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, should it miss its rollout targets.

The bidding terms of reference, however, allow a grace period in case of a delay in its rollout.

Section 14 of the terms of reference state that Dito will be allowed two grace periods of six months each within the five-year commitment period.

Dito’s failure to meet its commitments will allow the government to seize its P25.7-billion performance bond and recall assigned radio frequencies.

In 2018, Dito was named the country’s third major telco player that would challenge industry incumbents PLDT Inc. and Globe Telecom.

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