Solons hit NTC for lack of spectrum for new telco player

Lawmakers from the Senate and the House of Representatives have called on the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to flex its regulatory powers to ensure that the new telco player will have the radio spectrum needed for its operations.

NTC commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba speaks during the public hearing organized by the DICT for the entry of new telco player last Wednesday, Jan. 24, at the Rembrandt Hotel in Quezon City

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said in a statement that the NTC should exercise its power, as provided under Republic Acts No. 3846 and 7925, to recall spectrum which have been allocated to PLDT and Globe but remain unused.

Gatchalian made the statement after the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) acknowledged earlier this week that all “workhorse” spectrum frequencies are currently held by PLDT and Globe Telecom.

“Essentially, this means that any potential third player would be limited to offering data-based services only, since the 2G spectrum that support call and SMS services are completely controlled by the two telco giants,” he noted.

“This would put the third player at an immediate disadvantage, right out of the gate, since a significant percentage of mobile subscribers still rely on these bread-and-butter 2G services.”

Gatchalian noted a Senate inquiry last year adopted the recommendation to increase competition in the telecom sector by stricter government regulation of the publicly-owned spectrum. “This is the perfect time for the government to act on this recommendation,” the lawmaker said.

For his part, House ICT committee chair Victor A. Yap led a hearing on Tuesday, January 23, to discuss the NTC’s management and administration of the country’s radio frequency spectrum.

“Radio frequency spectrum is a scarce resource and considered the lifeblood of the telecommunications industry. NTC is the government agency mandated to regulate this precious resource. However, several issues have come up such as the alleged lack of bidding in the assignment of spectrum, the lack of transparency in NTC’s process, and the failure to maintain an effective competition among private entities in the use of communication and radio facilities,” Yap said.

Among the proposals put forward in the committee is the enactment of a spectrum reform law that will equitably distribute the limited radio frequency spectrum allotted to the country.

All GSM/2G frequencies are already owned by Smart-PLDT and Globe. Only 15 megahertz is unallocated in the 3G frequency, while only 80 megahertz is available in 4G. This leaves the possible third telco player with only 100 megahertz to start its operation.

“The recent call of the President involving the entry of third telco player underscores the importance of pursuing the investigation into the management and administration of the country’s radio frequency spectrum,” Yap said.

“This would entail the assignment of the remaining available radio frequency spectrum and possibly the reassignment of those that are unutilized. Our objective to make policies, rules, and regulations on spectrum allocation effective will be rendered for naught if we allow the assignment of the remaining spectrum without closer scrutiny,” he added.

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