A bill lifting the expiration of the validity of prepaid load credits for telecommunications has won the support of a House of Representatives committee.
However, the proposed Prepaid Load Forever Act of 2019 may not be expected to live up to its promise of granting prepaid telecommunications card infinite life.
Various stakeholders strongly support the measure but aired serious concerns over a number of adverse implications the perpetual load might trigger.
The concerns were aired during the virtual legislative hearing conducted by the House Committee on Information and Communications Technology on Thursday to deliberate on two bills proposing a ban on the setting of expiration for prepaid load credits.
Notwithstanding the presence of representatives from government and private telecommunications agencies, the hearing was interrupted a number of times by so called latency and sudden loss of Internet signal that brought Committee chairman and Tarlac Rep. Victor Yap to near exasperation.
Valenzuela Rep. Wesley Gatchalian, chairman of the House Committee on Trade and Industry, authored one of the two bills proposing to stop telcos and ICT service providers from putting expiration period on Internet or telecommunications prepaid loads.
“This should give a consumer his money’s full worth. It is important that the government find a balance between protecting the right of consumer where it does not also unduly hinder the industry from its gainful market for return of their investment,” said Gatchalian.
Gatchalian, who was elected chairman of the technical working group for the bill, wrote House Bill 2311 while Samar Rep. Jose Ong Jr. authored a similar bill, HB 5554.
Gatchalian said that since prepaid loads have already been paid for by the subscribers out of their hard earned money, their rights on how and when to use the load should be protected by law.
“Technically, pag-aari na nila (subscribers) ang load at nararapat lang na protektahan natin sila, (They are owners of the load thus, its just right for us to protect them),” said the Valenzuela City solon.
Under the bill, imposition of an expiration period on the validity of unused prepaid load credits and forfeiture of the load credits are considered prohibited acts.
The bill proposes a penalty of P100,000 to P1 million in fine or imprisonment of two to six years for violators.
However, Deputy Commissioner Eduardo Cabarrios of the National Telecommunications Commision said that while the agency supporters the measure, Congress must still address concerns on the limited number of assignable telephone numbers for mobile phones.
According to Cabarrios, there are about 900 million numbers that can be assigned but granting card holders the right to hold on to their assigned telephone numbers for a longer period without actually using it, will exhaust the maximum assignable numbers.
Pierre Tito Galla of Democracy.Net said a one year expiration should be studied. In his proposal, prepaid loads will have a life of one year, after which, the service provider will be allowed to deduct from the load balance P1 for each day of non-use of the card.
Lawyer Rey Ibay of Smart Communications noted that the clamor for perpetual prepaid card loads started when the Department of Trade and Industry banned the imposition of expiration for gift certificates.
Ibay explained that unlike gift certificates, a prepaid load is a stored value that can be used to call or text and carries a cost on the network which connects outgoing and incoming calls and texts.
“Gift certificates and cell phone cards cannot be compared as the two are not alike and cannot be considered on an apples to apples basis,” the Smart Communications official said.
For his part, lawyer Ariel Tubayan of Globe Telecoms assured the House panel of transparency in their deals with subscribers, saying that a consumer can verify their usage whenever they need to know.