NTC proceeds with NMP selection process despite legal challenges; PT&T now ready to bid

30 Oct 2018

The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) announced today (30 October) that it is moving forward with the selection process for the Philippines’ New Major Player (NMP) to challenge the Globe Telecom and PLDT Inc. telecoms duopoly. Under the plan, the NTC and the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) has requested that bidders submit applications by the 7 November deadline; the bids will then be opened on 10 November. DICT is confident that a ‘provisional’ third telco could be named as early as November, and as it stands, at least nine groups have purchased bid documents – although the NTC is unclear whether all of them will file proposals.

Muddying the water, however, one of the prospective bidders to become the new third telco – NOW Corp’s NOW Telecom – has lodged a legal challenge in the courts, questioning the process and alleging it is a ‘money-making scheme’. Further, last week Juan Miguel Lopez, investor relations and business development manager of NOW Corp, claimed that the selection process is ‘skewed in favour of foreign companies’ and dubbed it ‘anti-Filipino’. In a thinly veiled challenge, NOW Corp is hoping that President Rodrigo Duterte will select the NMP himself and view the undertaking as a public-private partnership. ‘It is not supposed to be a foreign-led consortium, it should be on equal partnership with the Filipino and the foreign telecommunications operator. But we are seeing right now in the terms of reference [ToR], you just want them in, period,’ Lopez said.

Alongside NOW’s legal case, two lawyers – Joseph Lemuel Baligod Baquiran and Ferdinand Tecson – asked the Supreme Court (SC) to revoke a co-use agreement between PLDT Inc. and Globe Telecom for a telecommunications frequency they previously acquired from San Miguel Corp (SMC). The lawyers argue that allowing the pair to use the 700MHz band, and four other frequencies previously held by Vega Telecom, amounts to a duopoly. In the wake of their petition, the country’s antitrust monitor, the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC), has reportedly asked the SC to resume its review of the disputed acquisition of SMC’s telecommunications assets. The Court of Appeals stopped the PCC from reviewing the billion-dollar deal, just months after it was announced in May 2016. The NTC has declined to comment on the legal cases.

In a related development, Philippine Telegraph and Telephone Corp (PT&T) has announced that it is now ready to participate in the NMP bid process, having obtained a certificate of no outstanding liabilities from the NTC. The watchdog appears to have certified that the telco had ‘no uncontested obligations to the NTC as of 1 October 2018, including supervision and regulation fees, spectrum user fees, penalties, surcharges and interests.’ Here, PT&T has paid up PHP20.57 million in spectrum users fee to NTC – covering the period 2003 to 2018 – and fees of PHP10.27 million for 2018. ‘Since embarking on its revival, PT&T has been clearing the way to meet all the pre-qualification requirements to bid for the new major player or the third telco bid,’ PT&T president and CEO James Velasquez is quoted as saying. ‘With its long history of providing telecommunications services to the Filipino people across the nation, we believe we can meet all the stringent requirements to participate, this recent certification is another proof of that,’ he added.