NTC’s Cabarios hints that SMC may be allowed to keep 700MHz frequencies

27 Nov 2015

Edgardo Cabarios, the head of regulatory affairs at the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) in the Philippines, says that it would be ‘difficult’ to recall and reallocate the 700MHz frequencies owned by locally-owned conglomerate San Miguel Corp (SMC), despite strident calls from incumbents for it to do so. Amid growing speculation that SMC intends to use the ‘very powerful’ band to roll out mobile broadband service in partnership with Australia’s Telstra Corp, both Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co (PLDT) and Globe Telecom have suggested that a fairer redistribution would enable them to provide users with improved mobile internet services. In answer to a question on the topic at an event in Metro Manila this week, though, Cabarios said: ‘How can you reassign when it has presently been assigned?’ He went on to point out that any move to reassign the spectrum must have a good legal basis to do so – such as the owner failing to pay its fees or non-use of spectrum, adding that SMC’s various telecoms units are currently up to date in this respect and the firm is pursuing the ‘ongoing build-up of its network’. In the NTC official’s view, any move to force SMC to give up the spectrum for reallocation would have to involve a ‘quasi-judicial’ process that could take ‘a long time’ to resolve.

Earlier this month, TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate reported that in a bid to grab a slice of the valuable 700MHz frequencies owned by SMC, PLDT and Globe Telecom asked the NTC for access to the bandwidth, saying that the conglomerate currently had an unfair allocation of spectrum by dint of its acquisitions in the Philippines. The telcos’ request came just after Telstra made some less than complimentary remarks on the quality of internet services in the country. SMC owns rights to use the band through its telecoms units Wi-Tribe (Liberty Telecoms Holdings) and High Telecommunication – its so-called ‘ace in the hole’ – as it contemplates launching the mobile joint venture with Telstra. SMC also owns the Filipino telcos Extelcom, Eastern Telecommunications Philippines (formerly ETPI) and Bell Telecommunications (BellTel), helping to ramp up its presence ahead of the 2016 launch. SMC owns rights to a total block of 90MHz of spectrum in the 700MHz band, split between Wi-Tribe (80MHz) and High Telecommunications (10MHz), while another player, New Century Telecommunications, holds the remaining 10MHz.

SMC’s president Ramon Ang has already dismissed the incumbents’ appeal, however, pointing out that no deal with Telstra is in place yet, and whatever the outcome it intends to use the 700MHz band to deliver high speed mobile internet services. ‘Between the two of them [PLDT and Globe], they have almost 300MHz of LTE frequencies. Why do they need more,’ Ang said. ‘They have all the frequencies, all the technology. All they have to do is fine- tune what they have.’