Activist lawmakers want regulatory powers of NTC expanded

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Party-list lawmakers have filed a bill to strengthen the powers of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC). The same bill also seeks to classify Internet and short messaging services (SMS) as utilities imbued with public interest.

NTC bldg

“Internet and SMS are vital parts of our daily lives, playing crucial role in many aspects of society, from media and information, entertainment, education, governance and the economy,” said Bayan Muna representatives Neri J. Colmenares and Carlos Isagani T. Zarate, who are co-authors of House Bill 6369.

“The bayanihan spirit has extended online where people send support for those affected by calamities and disasters, and government agencies use the Internet for relevant alerts,” the authors pointed out.

They also noted that the Philippines has been dubbed the ?Text Capital?, ?Social Media Capital? and even the ?BPO Capital of the World,? which shows a high demand for the use of such services.

“Even as Filipinos are recognized worldwide as SMS and Internet savvy, the country has been lagging behind in terms of average Internet speed and total Internet penetration hovers around 35-40% only of the Philippine population, with the majority of the activity coming from urban centers,” they noted.

Colmenares and Zarate pointed out that the problem lies with the country’s lack of infrastructures to deliver reliable Internet connections as it was left in the hands of private telecommunications companies that would only construct facilities that would be financially viable.

They likewise lamented that the current Public Telecommunications Act rendered the NTC as toothless when it comes to regulating Internet and text messaging services, which is considered only as a “value-added service” and therefore is outside of its jurisdiction.

The lack of spending by the private sector is evident as it consists only of 0.014% of the GDP. This is despite the fact that the sectors relying on Internet and other telecommunications services such as business process outsourcing (BPO) and other outsourcing industries have contributed $11 billion in export revenues, or an estimated 5.4% of the country’s GDP in 2011, they further explained.

“This bill echoes the call of consumers that the government should lead the creation of a national telecommunications and Internet infrastructure in order to interconnect the different islands of the country, which is a very monumental task and shall need government resources so it would cover areas unprofitable for the telecommunications companies to build its facilities,” the authors underscored.

Furthermore, the measure seeks to rationalize government regulations of the industry by clearly defining the powers of the NTC through the formulation of provisions specific and categorical to the industry, and increasing the fines to be imposed which is also allowed to be adjusted with inflation to ensure maximum compliance on the side of the telecommunications companies and Internet service providers, they added.

The measure is currently pending with the House Committee on Government Reorganization chaired by Antipolo representative Romeo M. Acop.

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