Lawmakers blast NTC’s ‘incompetent’ management of radio frequencies

The House information and communications technology (ICT) committee has created a technical working group (TWG) to study the imposition of spectrum user fees (SUF) on allocated radio frequency bands.

The House ICT committee conducting a hearing. At left is committee chair Victor Yap

The TWG will study two measures, House Bill 6736 authored by Quirino representative Dakila Cua, calling for an inquiry into the management of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) radio frequency spectrum, and House Resolution 1338 authored by committee chair and Tarlac representative Victor Yap, seeking to systematize the SUF.

The SUF are fees collected yearly from mobile phone companies, providers of broadband wireless access services, and public telephone firms that were assigned frequency bandwidth.

Radio frequency spectrum is a scarce natural resource and is considered the lifeblood of the telecommunications industry as it allows for the transmission of various forms of data and enables phone calls, text messaging, and access to various Internet services on mobile and wireless devices.

Per Republic Act No. 7925 or the Public Telecommunications Act, the government shall allocate the spectrum to service providers that will use it to meet public demand for telecommunications service.

The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) is tasked by RA 7925 and Executive Order 546 promulgated on July 23, 1979 to grant permits for the use of radio frequencies for wireless telephone and telegraph systems as well as radio communication systems. Under RA 7925, allocation and assignment of the frequencies shall be done through open tenders when demand for specific frequencies exceeds availability.

Yap pointed out that no real bidding has ever been carried out by the NTC to allocate spectrum since mobile phone service became commercially popular, but have always been assigned to the telecommunication companies by the NTC commissioner.

“There is lack in transparency in the process of NTC’s spectrum allocation, assignment, recall, and reallocation,” Yap said.

He added that the current policy and regular framework has failed to stop the industry from devolving into a duopoly and to protect the rights and welfare of consumers, especially of Internet services.

Cua lamented the effect of NTC’s management of SUF on industry competitiveness. He said the NTC has failed to maintain a level playing field for all telecommunication companies.

“As borne out by the records, bigger telecommunication companies are hoarding most of the available frequency bands without even utilizing them. As a result, new companies were prevented from entering the industry, or competing with the larger and more established telecommunication companies,” Cua said.

Frederick Esquillo, a guest resource person from the Philippine Cable Television Association (PCTA), requested that satellite users be excluded from the imposition of SUF.

But NTC deputy commissioner Edgardo Cabarios explained that all entities receiving and using satellite for commercial purposes are subject to SUF.

Internet Society Philippine Chapter vice president Mary Grace Mirandilla-Santos said there should be assessment on the impact on small players such as cable television operators and municipal radio stations.

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