Proposed law wants Internet service labeled as ‘basic telecom function’

Makati City representative Luis Campos Jr. wants Internet service tagged as “a basic telecommunications function” to give regulators the muscle to compel improvements by suppliers, including escalating connection speeds within prescribed deadlines, under pain of heavy fines.

Credit: ITU.int

Credit: ITU.int

“This is the best solution to the country’s supply of sluggish, inefficient and costly Internet services,” Campos said in a press statement.

“Our initiative is in keeping with the view of the United Nations Human Rights Council that all people have a right to Internet access, or the right to broadband, in order to exercise and enjoy other fundamental rights,” Campos said.

At present, Internet service in the Philippines is considered a “value-added service (VAS),” thus making it difficult, if not impossible, for the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to require higher standards, according to Campos.

Campos has filed House Bill 5337, which expressly redefines Internet service as “a prime telecommunications function within the jurisdiction and regulatory power of the NTC.”

“Right now, even if the NTC calls for compliance with faster connection speeds, Internet service providers will simply say they hope to eventually meet the terms, but not for now,” Campos said.

“And should regulators force the issue, they are vulnerable to civil lawsuits by defiant service providers,” he said.

In Asia Pacific, the Philippines has the slowest average connection speed at 5.5 Mbps versus Thailand’s 16 Mbps, Vietnam’s 9.5 Mbps, Malaysia’s 8.9 Mbps and Indonesia’s 7.2 Mbps, according to Akamai Technologies Inc.’s State of the Internet Report as of the first quarter of 2017.

The report ranks the Philippines No. 100 globally in average connection speed. South Korea is No. 1 worldwide with 28.6 Mbps, while Paraguay is No. 148 with 1.4 Mbps.

As proposed by Campos in his bill, Internet service suppliers that fail to deliver accelerating connection speeds within fixed deadlines face up to P100,000 in daily fines that could last up to 500 days, or reach up to P50 million, for every instance of non-compliance.

The bill also grants the NTC and its officers immunity from civil proceedings with respect to any directives they may issue to ensure the performance of time-bound upgrades in Internet services.

In batting for the new law, Campos invoked “the State’s duty to protect the interest of consumers, including Internet users, promote their general welfare, and to establish standards of conduct for business and industry.”

The bill seeks to amend the 22-year-old Public Telecommunications Policy Law of the Philippines, or Republic Act 7925.

“When Congress passed that law way back in 1995, the Internet was just starting to become available in the country. In fact, there is no mention of the Internet or Internet service in the law at all. That is how antiquated the law has become,” Campos said.

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