BIZ COLUMN:  WHOSE  'SMART' IDEA  IS  IT  TO  MAKE  TEXTING  FREE?

MANILA, JUNE 4, 2008
(STAR) TAKIN’ CARE OF BUSINESS By Babe Romualdez - Pardon the pun but, who’s the smart guy pushing Smart to provide text messaging for free? This may sound like a very popular proposal considering that Filipinos love anything that’s “free,” but it’s a harebrained idea that is simply not going to work. As pointed out by Catanduanes Rep. Joseph Santiago – who used to head the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) – ordering telecommunications companies to give free texting services might just force them to scrap the service totally. The proposal, Santiago said, is like forcing bus companies to provide free rides to the people, and if the bus breaks, the operator won’t have any motivation to fix the vehicle because he’s not getting any return on his investment anyway. What’s more, this could discourage others from investing – in this case, on the telecoms industry.

Experts have clearly pointed out free text messaging could result in the crashing of telco networks’ systems due to overloading. There are close to 50 million cellphone subscribers in the country today – more than half of our projected population of 88 million plus – with the average mobile user sending at least 10 to 15 messages per day. If you do the math, that means 50 to 75 million text messages sent every day. Filipinos love anything that’s free. But let’s face it – anything that is free tends to be abused. Making people pay for the service will teach them to be more prudent in sending text messages. But today, even with consumers having to pay for every text message sent, you already see a lot of junk messages going around. How much more so when the service is free?

There are also those who use texting to victimize people. Add to that those endless streams of ads and unsolicited messages sent shotgun style by private companies, politicians and everyone who wants to generate publicity at the expense of unsuspecting subscribers. During the period leading up to the New Year, some 43 billion text messages were reportedly sent – which clogged up networks that couldn’t accommodate the sudden traffic in the airwaves.

As for the argument that texting is a “value added service” (VAS) and thus, should be free – it’s still a “service,” period. And whether you like it or not, any service rendered should be paid commensurately. People just don’t realize that there are a lot of costs to maintain this kind of service – the salary of personnel, electricity, and maintenance of facilities particularly in the hard-to-reach areas in the countryside where telcos have built communication towers. In this world, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Considering that texting has become a national pastime, government can generate more revenue by imposing minimal tax on texting. With 50 to 75 million text messages sent everyday, that’s a lot of potential income for the government that can be used to help other sectors, like the education department for instance, that badly need funding.

This “smart” idea to make texting free probably comes from those who want to please consumers and make themselves look good – without considering that this ridiculous proposal will only backfire on consumers and eventually make life worse for them. As one telco executive says, this is not a very smart idea after all.

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Parallel lives

The other day, former president Joseph Estrada said he has invited former Malaysian deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim – who is arriving this week – to be his guest with former president Cory Aquino in attendance. Erap candidly admitted that his life and that of Ibrahim’s have a lot of parallels. In November 1998 during the ASEAN leaders’ summit in Kuala Lumpur (where Estrada surprised many, including then US vice president Al Gore who was representing president Bill Clinton, at the way he conducted himself), Estrada tried to see Anwar Ibrahim but was not allowed to do so.

At the time, Ibrahim was being detained on what many believe were trumped up charges against him. Erap spoke against the detention of his friend and expressed concerns that his rights were being violated – which irked Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir no end. When Erap was detained in Tanay, Anwar tried to visit him in 2007 but was not allowed to do so, and it was the latter’s turn to speak out, calling Estrada’s conviction “an issue in selective prosecution.”

While both men were under detention, it was their families who took up the political slack. Joseph Estrada’s wife, Dr. Loi Ejercito and son Jinggoy went on to win seats in the Senate, while Anwar’s wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and daughter Nurul Izzah won in the recent parliamentary elections in Malaysia. Today, both men are out – with observers convinced that both are contemplating a comeback. His party’s impressive performance in the elections gave Ibrahim strong chances of becoming a prime minister. On the other hand, some corners are saying Joseph Estrada has plans of running for president again with the way he has been going around communities, getting mobbed everywhere he goes.

But it seems to me Joseph Estrada is beginning to look at himself more as a man who has been vindicated not by the court of law but by the court of public opinion. He has often jokingly said that his conviction has turned him into “a man of conviction.” Many – even those from the upper crust – are starting to look at him as a different person, a rehabilitated man with a newfound sincerity. We are hoping the former president will be more like a statesman and help the country, instead of thinking of running for the presidency once again – which could potentially divide the country.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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