The government of the Philippines plans to institute a new bill by 2017 that will reform the country’s telecommunications industry, expanding the powers of regulators and allowing foreigners 100% ownership. Senator Sherwin Gatchalian says the reforms will give the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) ‘more teeth’, noting: ‘We need to strengthen the powers of the regulator. Make sure that it’s independent, it should have extensive powers to make sure that the consumers are protected and competition is healthy.’
The move has been welcomed by the president of consumer group TXTPower, Tonyo Cruz, who said that the Commission has perhaps been guilty of ‘betraying the interest of the public by how it manages the industry as a whole’. The comments relate to the recent decision by the NTC to rubber stamp PLDT Inc. and Globe Telecom to use 700MHz spectrum, which was previously held by a subsidiary of San Miguel Corporation (SMC) in what Cruz dubbed ‘a midnight deal’. Here, Senator Gatchalian has assured TXTPower that his committee will look into how the NTC could be reorganised to avoid the same thing happening in future.
Further, the bill will look to amend outdated laws restricting foreign ownership of telcos, which many see as a barrier to the entry of new players, thus limiting competition in the industry as a whole. Among the amendments to the Public Service Act, or Commonwealth Act No. 146, is a plan to remove telecoms operators from being classified as a public utility, which would remove the need to amend the 1987 Philippine Constitution to liberalise the country’s telecommunications sector and allow foreign players to operate as public utilities.