September 12, 2009
(STAR)  BUSINESS & LEISURE By Ray Butch Gamboa - I don’t know if, by the time this column comes out, the five new circulars of the National Telecommunication Commission have come out. They’ve been on the board for some time now and they already announced the details several days ago in the leading dailies. If they’re not out by this time, something might be brewing again.

Policy Regulation no. 0407-2009 should have been out by now. This is the one dealing with unwanted advertisements flooding your cell phones, and the Commission has put its foot down on the broadcast messaging service of the content providers. If I understood it right, they are now allowed to give only one unsolicited advertisement per month, which is a big relief for us users. Imagine your cell phone buzzing every so often when you’re busy at your desk or in an important meeting, and you get virtual spam every time.

What this non-techie understands is, based on the findings of the Senate, these unsolicited messages are the primary reason for the disappearing loads. I guess this was how the service providers explained the disappearing loads and this was relayed to us no less than by the Commission itself when we got their side in a recent interview.

You mean to say all those advertisements and promos for unwanted services, ring tones, wall papers, etc. are being charged to us?

I get updates on upcoming sales from appliance stores and big department stores, promos from all the major credit card companies, offers from financing companies for pre-approved car loans and other such loans, updates on my latest credit card billings, updates on my cell phone billing, new phone services, promo packages on unlimited texting-you name it, I get it all the time. You mean, all these time, I was paying for all of them? I never even knew I was paying for them, let alone gave outright permission to be charged for all of these unsolicited (and most of them unwarranted anyway!) messages and updates? No wonder my kids cried over disappearing phone loads every month and begged to be given post-paid lines because, in the long run, they were more cost-effective. Not that they were cheaper in the long run, actually, but at least, with post-paid lines, everything is documented and you can always file complaints if you discover something outrageous in your bill. That is, if you bother with each and every item in your monthly billing, which many of us don’t.

If such were the case, it’s high time the NTC stops this malpractice. How else can you call it but that? It took no less than the Senate President to denounce his disappearing phone loads on the Senate floor for somebody to act on this long-standing valid complaint. My own kids were still very very young then when they were complaining about this, which was a common complaint among their young classmates as well. That’s how long this practice has been going on.

The other policy regulation has to do with the unit of billing of mobile phone subscribers. According to Deputy Commissioner Jaime Fuentes of the NTC, “this is a rather revolutionary policy regulation” that they have decided to impose on the telecom companies which previously have been billed based on one-minute rates. With the new guidelines, the service providers are mandated to bill on a per six-second and per three-second rate. Previously, all usages were rounded off to the next minute, even if your usage is only for ten seconds. With the circular, the pulse billing rounds off to the next three seconds.

This may be academic now because Globe and Smart are now offering per-second charging, though this is on a promo basis now. Their P0.10 (10 centavos) rate per second should be good news for those scrimping on their cell phone usage, and believe me, during these trying times, there are a lot of people mindful of their escalating phone bills. This promo, though, is for on-net calls only, so with this new guideline, the telcos will have to adopt it on a permanent basis.

The third of this set of memo-circulars has to do with the expiration of loads. The new circular prolongs the validity of the pre-paid loads, such that P10 loads which were only valid for one day before shall now be valid for at least three days. According to the Commission, loads of P10 to P50 shall now be valid for fifteen days; loads of P50 to P100 valid for thirty days from the original fifteen; P100-P150 loads valid for forty five days, and so on.

Though not a pre-paid user myself, here’s my take on this: imposing very short validity on these loads unduly taxes the user and forces him to use up his load or else face confiscation. The cheaper the load, the shorter the validity, but then who buys those cheap loads? People who can hardly afford to buy them in bulk, so they resort to “tingi”. These are the people whose loads these service providers “confiscate” within 24 hours if not used up totally.

There is, however, an obstacle to the implementation of this circular. Previously, the NTC was served an injunction by the courts, at the behest of the telecom companies, effectively preventing them from prolonging the validity of these cell phone loads. Up to now, the commission is bound by this temporary restraining order, but for how long? The commission needs the telcos to have this order lifted, and until such time, they cannot touch any of the provisions cited in the TRO.

TROs are legal tools which can go either way, depending on which side you’re in. The TRO issued by a Paranaque judge stopping the Maynilad from laying out water pipes in other areas of B.F. Homes in Paranaque shows how this tool, not to mention judicial authority, has been abused. It took a full-blown congressional hearing initiated by Cong. Roilo Golez, a lot of chutzpah from Paranaque hard-working Mayor Jun Bernabe who took up the cudgels for the beleaguered B.F. Homes residents, a mass protest march by aggrieved homeowners who took all they could for two decades until they could take no more of the bull shit, and a lot of mileage from newspapers before the TRO could be overturned. Now I understand the trial judge in question has a lot of explaining to do and is facing serious administrative charges.

Besides, the TRO is temporary, so how long do the consumers have to wait and what relief can be sought other than waiting for the telcos to give in? In fairness though, to these service providers especially Globe and Smart, they have shown themselves to be responsible and pro-active corporate citizens. So I guess general welfare will prevail over corporate profits at the end of the day.

Lastly, on the matter of taxing text messages as proposed by Congressman Danny Suarez, I guess it is one of the last frontiers left untouched by taxes in this land of ours. It can be a lucrative source of tax revenue for this cash-strapped administration and is certainly welcomed by the agencies which have been experiencing serious revenue shortfalls. As long as it is not passed on to the consumers, it is a going to be a win-win situation for the government but not for the telcos, and no skin off our nose for the consumers. Just don’t leave us consumers holding the bag. Texting is the most affordable form of communication now for all Filipinos and taxing this virtual national past time can be vex the average Pinoy.

Mabuhay!!! Be proud to be a Filipino.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved