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Statement before the Senate trade and commerce committee hearing

Mon, Dec 21, 2009

News

By Anthony Ian Cruz
President
TXTPower.org Inc.

Honorable Senate President Enrile, Committee Chairman Senator Mar Roxas and members of the Senate trade and commerce committee:

Thank you for inviting us to appear and speak before you today on behalf of consumers.

We refrained from issuing any statement on the new per-pulse charging scheme announced by the National Telecommunications Commission until Friday as we sought to look at how the industry regulator would implement its circular and whether the telecommunications companies Smart and Globe would comply.

On the NTC

First, we are outraged that the NTC has allowed itself to be used as a doormat by the telcos. How the NTC has acted since issuing and attempting to implement its circular confirms the worst fears of consumers and members of Congress: That the NTC, the industry regulator, has apparently lost sight of its mandate and powers under law and allowed the telcos they are supposed to regulate to dictate telecom regulations in the country.

Wittingly or unwittingly, the NTC admits through its action and inaction, that it is infected with a serious disease of Deregulation Complex. It always hides behind “deregulation” to defend the telcos when consumers complain and when Congress raises the relevant questions. Pinampapalo po sa ulo ng consumers ‘yang Republic Act 7925 pero pang-protekta naman para sa telcos.

We might as well consider abolishing the NTC and instead form a new regulatory body. As taxpayers, we deserve more than the NTC. A new body should be insulated from presidential whim and caprice. We also believe that the current President has abused her prerogatives and powers in appointing a string of incompetents to the NTC which could be partly blamed for the mess we are all in. A regulator must be the champion of the interests of the Republic and the people, not of the telcos they are supposed to regulate.

On the telcos

Second, your Honors, we are no longer surprised by the actuations of the lord and masters of the telecommunications industry.

On the issue of per-pulse billing, the telcos are pretending they did not know that the NTC circular prior to its implementation in intra-network calls on December 6 and in inter-network calls on Dec. 16. They are of course lying because the NTC signed it way back in July.

As of today, Smart, Globe and Sun remain recalcitrant and unapologetic for violating the NTC circular. The default charging for calls remain per-minute, not per-pulse.

In the case of Smart, it has seen it perfectly legal to reinterpret the circular as allowing them to make it a mere optional billing offer. If Smart subscribers wish to get per-pulse charging, they have to use prefixes which are different across its four mobile brands. Neither has Smart sent advisories to subscribers about this option – which is a disservice to the 40 million subscribers of the Smart network. There is apparently an intention to just pretend to follow the circular.

One explanation for this arrogant and strong refusal to abide by the circular are the billions of pesos in projected income from Christmas and New Year calls.

To illustrate the mentality of the telcos which badly need tough government regulation, allow me to quote a report published yesterday by ABS-CBNNews.com:

“If you’re a telco, how do you convince a farmer to spend his money on prepaid load over food? And how can you make him choose you over the other telco? How do you keep him spending? That’s where the challenge is.”

That’s a direct quote from Mr. Ernest Cu, chief executive officer of Globe Telecom.

It is perhaps time to review and revoke Batas Pambansa 95, Republic Act 7294, and Republic Act 7678.

How to lower call rates

We in TXTPower hope the Senate would guide the NTC on how to implement the law that mandates it to regulate the industry.

This shift from per-minute to per-pulse billing is one step forward. Let us get it done with in time for the holidays. Let it be a gift of Congress to the over 70 million mobile phone users in the world’s texting capital.

Lower call rates are good for consumers and for businesses as well. It could even be good for telcos themselves because of increased volume of cheaper calls.

We raise the following suggestions by way of questions:

1. PLDT, the parent company of Smart, now offers P1.50 per minute calls to the US. Sun Cellular meanwhile offers P2.00 per minute calls to the five major countries. Why are international calls now generally cheaper than local cellular-to-cellular calls?

2. When was the last time the NTC reviewed and repegged the rates for calls, text and other cellphone services? Have they remained the same – if so, why? What is now the true cost of a minute or a pulse of cellphone calls? Are the nominal or promo rates set arbitrarily by telcos?

3. What is the current status of interconnection charges? Have they remained the same – if so, why?

4. Has the NTC performed audits of pricing and billing practices, software and hardware acquisitions, and financial records of the telcos?

5. Has there been any move in Congress to exercise oversight on the telcos’ franchises? Are they complying with their franchises?

6. Has Congress bothered to make a sweeping review of Republic Act 7925 from the point of view of consumers and considering the nefarious activities of telcos?

We in TXTPower look forward to helping the Senate, through this committee and the Senate President, find answers to these questions and bring about much-needed changes in the industry. ###

1 Comments For This Post

  1. kettythomasan Says:

    I must say that these are the common man question and they all face this questions in their routine life. I am waiting for the solutions for it. But I think these are the questions/suggestion which raised often but left to be unsolved. Pandora battery

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