Senate to scrutinize gov’t selection of third telco


By Hannah Torregoza

Senator Grace Poe is seeking a probe into the status of the government’s selection of a third major telecommunications service provider that is expected to break the duopoly in the Philippines’ telecommunications sector.

Grace Poe in Dagupan – Senator Grace Poe together speaks before the students and faculties of Lyceum Northwestern University in Dagupan City, Wednesday morning, August 26, 2015. Senator Poe says she is making rounds in school and universities in as part of her consultation on youth concerns. (mbpixs/senator_grace_poe_dagupan_city/261aug2015/jojo_rinoza) Senator Grace Poe (Manila Bulletin File Photo)

Poe said the Senate, in the exercise of its oversight functions, has to check the developments surrounding the much-awaited entry of the country’s next telco player in anticipation of the reported award in November.

President Duterte had earlier said he would take over the naming of the third telco player so that there would be a new telecommunication service provider before Christmas.

Poe said her committee, the Senate committee on public services, would take an active in tackling the congressional franchise of the applicant.

“We need to have meaningful competition in public utilities like telecommunications that will translate to lower costs and better service,” Poe said.

Reports show that the Philippines still ranks near the bottom in terms of Internet speed globally and has one of the most expensive mobile and data rates.

The Executive, particularly the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and other related government agencies, is expected to brief senators about the issue.

Poe’s panel has specifically invited DICT Acting Sec. Eliseo Rio Jr., NTC chair Gamaliel Cordoba, Securities and Exchange Commission chair Emilio Aquino, Philippine Competition Commission chair Arsenio Balisacan, Socioeconomic Planning Sec. Ernesto Pernia and Department of Science and Technology Sec. Fortunato Dela Peña as resource persons to the hearing.

7 players

At least seven entities are interested in becoming the country’s third network provider.

Some of the companies earlier named as interested parties include NOW Corp., Converge ICT Solutions, and Philippine Telegraph and Telephone Corp., among others, as well as major telco players Globe and PLDT are invited to the briefing.

In a press briefing earlier, Duterte said he is keen on placing the selection process under the Office of the President if he is forced to take over the choice.

Duterte, who earlier said he wants the third telco player to be up and running by the first quarter of 2018, expressed his frustration over the NTC’s move to impose more and more requirements for interested telcos who want to join in the bidding.

“Give me your position papers. I'll read it, give me about 30 minutes then I'll come back and tell them. I will decide.

'Yun na at ibigay na 'yung linya (That's it and the line will be given),” the President said when he said he would choose the entity with a best track record and “with no history of breakdowns.”

‘Crack the whip on telcos’

Meanwhile, Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte is counting on the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to crack the whip on private telecommunications companies (telcos) to ensure that they provide more reliable Internet speeds and connectivity before President Duterte signs into the telecommuting law.

The principal author of the proposed Telecommuting Act made the call after the Senate recently ratified the bicameral conference committee report on the telecommuting bill and after the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) admitted that weak information technology (IT) and electronic infrastructure could affect the implementation of work-from-home arrangements.

“More reliable Internet speeds and connectivity alone will spell the success of the soon-to-be-enacted telecommuting law that will not only allow Filipino workers to adopt flexible work arrangements but also help the government ease the worsening traffic in Metro Manila and other urban centers,” Villafuerte said.

He said the NTC should also ensure that the cost of internet service is affordable.

“More than telling private telcos to shape up, the NTC should also carry out measures to further bring down the costs of internet service in the country to encourage more employers to adopt the flexi-work arrangement if and when feasible,” he said.

He laments that the Internet speeds of up to 100 mbps which are being offered by private firms, are too expensive and are limited to certain areas across the country.

“Our problem is not how to speed up internet connections but how to make them more affordable and accessible to more people. How can the government effectively implement a telecommuting law if employees who want to work from home cannot do so — even if they want to — because they live in underserved areas where network connection is limited?,” Villafuerte asked.

“How can we encourage employers to adopt telecommuting if they find it too expensive to shoulder the mobile data expenses of their employees?” he added.

Villafuerte said work-from-home arrangements will definitely boost the capability of employers to hire talent without considering the latter’s location.

“With telecommuting, companies that, say, are based in Metro Manila or Central Luzon, they can hire highly skilled employees even if they live as far as Davao or Cagayan de Oro cities,” he explained.

“Companies should start rethinking the way they measure the quality and quantity of work rendered by their employees. Putting in hours at the office doesn't necessarily mean increased productivity. Working from home could accomplish the same results done at the office in less time,” Villafuerte said.

Telecommuting benefits

Under the recently-ratified bicameral conference committee report on the telecommuting bill, work-from-home employees get fair treatment, by compelling employers to provide them the same workload and performance standards, regular and overtime pay rates, extra monetary benefits, access to training and career growth opportunities, and collective rights being received by others working in their respective employers’ premises.

“Telecommuting will help solve the ever-worsening traffic congestion in Metro Manila and other urban centers, reduce business costs, raise workers’ efficiency, and increase the chances for employment of circumstantially marginalized individuals such as stay-at-home parents, persons with disabilities (PWDs), retirees and those living in farflung areas,” Villafuerte said.

He noted that telecommuting will enhance productivity among employees and improve public health, as long travel to work could cause chronic stress and other health disorders such as higher blood pressure levels that lead to cardiac attacks, diabetes and other killer diseases.

“Telecommuting should now be an available option for workers, given the detrimental effects on health of spending long hours daily in traffic jams,” the House leader said. (With a report from Charissa M. Luci-Atienza)