Senate to look into issue of unused prepaid load credits and data

Published January 27, 2021, 7:24 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senator Grace Poe said on Wednesday that the Senate will have to study further the proposed removal of the expiration dates imposed on unused prepaid load credits and data.

(photo from Pixabay)

In suspending the hearing of the Senate Public Services Committee on the proposal, Poe said a technical working group will be formed to examine the details of the bills on the load expiration and to consider the position of the telecommunication companies and other stakeholders.

“I think there should really be a further technical discussion on this. In principle, it is very good for the consumers to have the assurance that their load will not expire,” Poe said.

The panel discussed Senate Bill Nos. 365 and 1880 proposing the non-expiration of load credits and data, respectively.

SB No. 365, filed by Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, proposes to prohibit telecommunication companies and communications technology from imposing an expiration period and forfeiting unused load credit purchased thru prepaid card or electronic loading.

Meanwhile, SB. No. 1880, authored by Sen. Lito Lapid, proposes to mandate a rollover data system for the subscribers of all internet service providers wherein the unused data allocation will not expire but will carry over to the succeeding months until the year’s end.

Poe said consumers who have paid in advance for their cellphone load should have the prerogative when to consume it so they can be given the full value for their money.

“Ang bagal at ang mahal na nga ng internet, nag-e-expire pa (Internet services are already slow and expensive, yet they expire). We heard of instances when the data allocation of many subscribers expires in just one or three days,” she lamented.

“We want to address the situation where the money used by mobile subscribers to purchase their prepaid credits are not being utilized in its entirety, to the detriment of the consuming public. In short, sa kasalukuyang set-up, nalulugi ang mga Pilipino (in the current set-up, Filipinos are at the losing end),” she added. 

Telcos opposed

Telecommunication companies, however, expressed reservations about scrapping the expiration of prepaid load credits due to the cost that it will entail.

“If you are a prepaid user, your load expires, you have 180 days to actually enjoy incoming calls, so you can still receive incoming calls, so that is a cost on the part of the telcos,” said Roy Ibay, Smart Vice President for legal and regulatory group.

Globe head of policy division, corporate and legal services Ariel Tubayan said the non-expiration of load credits might also result in additional costs to the subscribers and would limit their choices on what services to avail.

At present, prepaid loads expire after one year, as mandated by a joint circular by the Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Information and Communications Technology and the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) in December 2017.

Promos are not covered by this validity, Tubayan noted.

Engineer Pierre Galla, co-founder of advocacy group Democracy.Net.PH., explained to the panel that the reason load have to expire “is because they become direct cost to the telcos, because they have to maintain in their database records forever and ever.”

“You can have a number that’s linked to, let say, one peso, and if that does not expire, that is going to be, in itself, a capacity in the databases of the companies,” he cited for instance.

As a solution, he proposed that the expiry be treated as “as how the banks used to do it with passbooks.”

“So you have a minimum maintaining balance, if your account is inactive for x amount of time, babawasan siya ng piso [a peso will be deducted], for example, for every day until it gets zeroed out. So in this way, it becomes a win-win solution for the consumers and for the telcos, the only question now is what is the definition of ‘inactive’,” Galla said.

The NTC, meanwhile, supported the proposal to remove the prepaid load expiry as it argued that it will not affect the telco’s carrying cost. 

“It is our view that as the number of [prepaid] subscribers increase, that cost is decreased. And it is not the same as the wired because sa wired nakadedicate ‘yong line sa ‘yo, eh (the line is dedicated to you), so there is that carrying cost. But in the mobile (prepaid) wala po ‘yon (there is none), because there is no line that is dedicated to you,” NTC Deputy Commissioner Edgardo Cabarios said.

“So that’s the reason why we support the non-expiry, provided that pagka hindi po ginagamit, binabawasan hanggang maging zero (when not used, it will be deducted until zeroed out) for us also to manage the telephone numbers, cellphone numbers, because these are limited resources,” he added.

To these, Poe said: “Of course, we understand that it might be untenable later on to manage a database full of registered numbers, especially if we pass this, that has been inactive. So, there should also be a responsibility on the part of the consumers when it comes to their prepaid cards.”