Senate renews congressional franchise of Smart for another 25 years

The Senate has approved on third and final reading a bill which sought to renew for another 25 years the franchise of Smart Communications.

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House Bill No. (HBN) 4637, approved with 15 affirmative votes, two negative vote by Senators Risa Hontiveros and Ping Lacson and no abstention, would grant Smart a telecommunications franchise.

The Senate likewise passed House Bill No. 4631, which approved with 17 affirmative votes, no negative vote and zero abstention the congressional franchise of GMA-7.

The bills were sponsored by Senator Grace Poe, chairperson of the Committee on Public Services. Poe said that apart from extending Smart’s franchise, HBN 4637 introduced important amendments that would better protect the interest of telecom users.

“It is expedient for the legislature to roll over Smart’s franchise by simply extending it. But we know that obsolescence does not only plague technology but regulatory frameworks as well,” Poe said in her sponsorship speech.

The first amendment is the deletion of the term “co-use” in the application of the franchise so that “this seemingly innocuous word cannot be invoked in employing anti-competition practices.”

The bill also compels Smart to install facilities and bring under its coverage areas not yet served, specifically calamity-prone ones, where the presence of telecommunication services can help in times of disaster.

“We are requiring it to upgrade and program its entire infrastructure to be on standby to send out free mobile disaster alerts as mandated by Republic Act No. 10639,” she said.

The bill also retained the requirement for congressional consent “on the sale, lease, transfer, usufruct or assignment of the franchise.

Meanwhile, Poe said that aside from extending the GMA’s franchise, HBN 4631 requires the network to provide free public service time to the government, through the broadcasting stations or facilities, to relay important public announcements and warnings as needed or required by law.

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