THE National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has approved the request of the Philippine National Police (PNP) to shut off the signal of cellular phones during three major Sinulog activities this weekend.

On Saturday, Jan. 19, the signal will be down from 3 a.m. to 10 a.m. for the Seaborne Procession. Affected areas will be the cities of Cebu, Lapu-Lapu and Mandaue.

Later that afternoon, the signal will once again be shut off from noon to 8 p.m. for the Solemn Procession. Downtown and uptown Cebu City will be affected.

On Sunday, Jan. 20, the signal will be down from 3 a.m. to 7 p.m. for the Sinulog grand parade.

NTC 7 Director Jesus Laureno said the reason for the shutoff is to prevent terrorists from using cellular phones to detonate bombs. Unscrupulous persons may also use cellular phones in their illegal activities, he said.

He said they received the request for the shutoff last Jan. 11.

Meanwhile, there is no word yet whether the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) 7 will shut off its WiFi signal during the grand parade.

The agency, which will be offering four free WiFi hotspots near the parade route, said it awaits orders from its central office.

“They can go to Plaza Independencia. Our hotspot has a 100-meter line-of-sight range. But that is still subject to change within the coming days and depends on the decision of our central office,” said DICT 7 Director Frederick Amores.

The free WiFi hotspot is part of the Pipol Konek program of the DICT 7 to provide free internet access to Cebuanos.

Amores, though, said the WiFi range is limited within the park and will not reach the vicinity of the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño.

He also said that even if the NTC is under the DICT’s fold, the commission maintains a quasi-independent function. That means the NTC can approve requests from the PNP to order telecommunications (telcos) firms to shut off their mobile signals.

Last year, DICT 7 received a memorandum to shut off its hotspots.

In a related development, Bill Peralta, an emergency telecommunicator of NTC 7, clarified that the three major telcos—Smart Communications Inc., Globe Telecom Inc. and Digitel Mobile Philippines—will not be shutting down their cell sites this weekend. They will merely “reduce” the transmission signal in the vicinity of the activities.

However, he said areas in Bohol that are facing Cebu will still be affected by the shutoff. (HBL of SuperBalita Cebu)