New law will make it easier for consumers to unlock mobile phones

Published August 5, 2018, 3:32 PM

by Patrick Garcia

By Hannah Torregoza

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said the Senate sub-committee on the Network Freedom bill, which he chairs, has started the process of ironing out the details of the measure which seeks to stop telecommunication (telcos) companies from locking mobile wireless devices to their own respective networks.

Sen. Sherwin T. Gatchalian (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)
Sen. Sherwin T. Gatchalian
(Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

Section 4 of Senate Bill No. 1643 or the proposed Network Freedom Act specifically prohibits telcos or other retailers of mobile wireless devices from selling units, issued without subscription contracts, that are locked to a specific network.

Gatchalian said the new version of the bill also provides that subscribers be fully informed of the unlocking process, with the terms stipulated in writing under the mobile communications service contract.

“The goal is to make it easier for the consumers to unlock their mobile devices, if they wish to do so,” Gatchalian said.

“Telcos will be mandated to inform their subscribers of the official channels for unlocking, as well as the method and manner for unlocking, making the process completely transparent,” the senator added.

However, representatives from Globe and Smart who participated in the panel’s technical working group (TWG) meeting have told the committee that the time period for a phone to be unlocked varies per device manufacturer.

But in any case, he said the members of the TWG, including the telco representatives, agreed that Telcos must automatically unlock devices within 24 hours upon completion of the service contract or upon full payment of the device should a subscriber wish to pre-terminate his contract.

The unlocking of the phone would also be done by the Telcos free of charge and will not void the warranties provided by the manufacturers.

Gatchalian said the TWG will wait for the findings of the study to be conducted by Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to determine a reasonable lock-in period, citing the nine-month lock-in period used in New Zealand as a global best practice.

“But the buying power of a New Zealander and the buying power of a Filipino is widely different. I think the buying power of New Zealanders is much higher so that they can shorten the time period,” he said.

“Ours is different. In our case, , the buying power is lower, baka nga mayroong mga gustong 12 months or even longer. But I think to be more educated about it, we’re requesting the NTC and DICT to come up with an analysis on this,” the senator added.

Senate Bill No. 1643 specifically aims to uphold consumer rights and enable them to switch to another service provider for improved wireless services and better options which is often negated by telcos when they lock the devices to their respective networks.

Though the process of unlocking devices can be done by a third party, such process would normally void the warranty.

In his bill, Gatchalian noted that such scheme of network-locking “limits competition between and among industry players who may be able to reduce subscriber turnover by using device-locking as a deterrent, or even an irritant, to subscribers from switching providers.”

Once passed into law, public telcos will be prohibited from locking their mobile devices, whether sold as a unit or issued under a mobile communications service contract, to their respective networks.

The Senate bill, filed by Gatchalian, is a counterpart bill to House Bill No. 22 filed by Rep. Francis Gerald Abaya.