Solons want telecoms declassified as public utility to entice more players

Two senators have called for the declassification of the local telecom industry as a “public utility” to open up the country’s telecommunications sector and increase investments in the sector.

Grace Poe

According to Sen. Joel Villanueva, this move would let more players to come in and offer better services amid consumer problems on the country’s slow and expensive Internet.

At present, Internet services in the country are being offered by only two major telecom providers — PLDT and Globe Telecom.

Under Senate Bill No. 695 authored by Villanueva which amends the 80-year-old Public Service Act or Commonwealth Act No. 146, telecommunications will be excluded from the definition of a public utility.

The Supreme Court has defined a public utility in one of its rulings as “a business or service engaged in regularly supplying the public with some commodity or service of public consequence such as electricity, gas, water, transportation, telephone or telegraph service. Public utilities are permitted to operate as regulated monopolies for providing basic services necessary to public consumers.

“Removing the telecom industry in the limitation for public services will harness competition and bring in more investments and technology that are certainly geared to improve the state of Internet services in the country,” Villanueva said.

Sen. Grace Poe, meanwhile, said the entry of qualified foreign players into the telco market would be a welcome development but current laws do not allow this.

Poe said this is why she filed Senate Bill Number1441, which also seeks to amend the Public Service Act that would exclude the telco industry from the definition of “public utility” and confine it only to natural monopolies such as transmission and distribution of electricity, and water works and sewerage systems.

Last week, Malacañang announced that Pres. Rodrigo Duterte is offering China the “privilege” to operate as the third telco operator in the country that would soon “break up” the duopoly of PLDT and Globe Telecom.

Though no specific Chinese company has been lined up yet, China is said to have been chosen by the President for its capital and technology to provide efficient telecom service.

“While I recognize the President’s intention to introduce competition in the telco industry by inviting China, it is better if we open the sector to competition and we invite everyone interested to enter the market. We can do that by reducing the barriers to entry than by giving preferential treatment to one. This is what we are trying to do with SB 695. The President can certify this as urgent so that we can have better options in Internet and cellphone services,” Villanueva said.

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