GALLA | Mobile Number Portability: What it means for PH

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If you can read this, you are probably one of the about 60 million cellphone users in the Philippines. If you are reading this on your cellphone, you are one of about 30 million smartphone users in the country.

If you are a cellphone user, you probably have at least two subscriptions and subscriber identification module (SIM) cards, and very likely, you are a prepaid user.

How do we know this? In a submission by Democracy.Net.PH to the Senate Committee on Public Services chaired by Sen. Grace Poe, the following 2016 data was shown about the Philippines? approximately 60-million cellphone users:

Among the reasons why people have two or more subscriptions are the observations that sometimes they find themselves in locations where one service provider has signal and the other does not; it is cheaper to call a number within a network than call a number that is in another network; because they do not want to lose their old numbers but want to enjoy some new service offerings or gadgets of the other service provider; and many more.

Ayokong mawala ang number ko, matagal ko nang gamit ito, ito na ang nasanay na ng mga pamilya at mga kaibigan ko” is a common reason for quite a lot of subscribers to stay with their subscriptions, even as they want to get better services.

Enter mobile number portability and the ?Lifetime Cellphone Number Act.?

What is mobile number portability?

In the Senate, a measure was filed by Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, which has now passed third reading as the “Lifetime Cellphone Number Act.”

The measure, as it says in Section 3, is intended ?to promote competition between and among public telecommunications entities by giving consumers the freedom to choose and to respond to quality, price, and other relevant considerations without changing their mobile numbers whenever they change service providers.?

It’s a bill intended to spur competition at the consumer level. (No, friends, this is not a SIM registration bill. That’s different, and a topic for another day.)

In other countries, mobile number portability is simply the movement from one service provider to another without losing your cellphone number.

However, because the Philippines is probably the world’s most advanced prepaid market and where about 96% of us are prepaid users, mobile number portability in the “Lifetime Cellphone Number Act” is proposed to cover these kinds of switching:

  • From one provider to another, but staying prepaid;
  • From one provider to another, but staying postpaid;
  • From prepaid to postpaid, but not leaving your service provider;
  • From postpaid to prepaid, but not leaving your service provider
  • From prepaid in your current provider, to postpaid in your new provider; and
  • From postpaid in your current provider, to prepaid in your new provider.

In all of the above use cases, you get to keep your number. (Yes, folks, sounds great, doesn’t it?)

While in previous years, the telcos have opposed an attempt by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to prescribe mobile number portability, they have now acquiesced to both the Senate (with Senate Bill No. 1636 having passed third reading) and the House of Representatives (where counterpart measures are in a Technical Working Group of the House Committee on Information and Communications Technology).

Congressman Victor Yap, chair of the Committee on ICT, remarked in a hearing that this measure “is long overdue”. Stakeholders are now hoping that the bill will be signed into law by the middle of this year.

What can subscribers expect from the ‘Lifetime Cellphone Number Act?’

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives are in agreement in how mobile number portability should be implemented in the Philippines. Here’s how they are directing the telcos to do it:

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate are instructing the NTC to be the implementing agency for mobile number portability.

They want the NTC to conduct a study that will determine the most appropriate and cost efficient porting scheme for the country, and ensure that consumer protection is part and parcel of the mobile number portability process, as suggested by Internet Society Philippine Chapter (ISOC-PH) and the Better Broadband Alliance through ICT advocate Grace Mirandilla-Santos.

An important part of mobile number portability is on data privacy. The inputs of the National Privacy Commission (NPC) were taken positively and made part of the Senate version.

The information gathered by telcos and other third party entities under the provisions of the “Lifetime Cellphone Number Act” shall be subject to the provisions of the Data Privacy Act (RA 10173).

What this means for subscribers is that whatever information you have left behind after you avail of mobile number portability, and whatever information you provide to your new telco, must still be handled strictly, carefully, and scrupulously by your previous telco, your new telco, and the third party value added service providers they partner with. (Or else.)

What can telcos expect from the ‘Lifetime Cellphone Number Act?’

Telcos with bad services can expect unhappy subscribers to leave them, and telcos with good services can expect subscribers of bad competitors to move to them. Such consumer-level competition is a good thing, as it will encourage telcos to improve on their service quality, coverage, and cost.

On the other hand, the Senate version of the “Lifetime Cellphone Number Act” proposes the removal of interconnection fees — and amendment inserted by Sen. Panfilo Lacson — so the telcos will not need to pay interconnection fees to each other.

At present, users are charged with interconnection fees of 2.50 per minute for calls and P0.15 for text messages to different networks, and in 2016, other telcos paid P3.2-billion in interconnection fees to one telco giant.

With the removal of interconnection fees, the senators expect that the both the telcos and subscribers will save money, and that the costs of calls and texts to another network will not have additional fees compared to costs of calls and texts within a network.

When can we hope for mobile number portability to happen?

The bill for the “Lifetime Cellphone Number Act” has passed third reading in the Senate, so the measure is just waiting for the House of Representatives to come out with a counterpart version.

When that happens, a bicameral conference committee will hammer out the final version of the bill, and place it before the President for his signature.

The hope of ICT advocates is that the bill is placed before the president before March 23, 2018 — which is the last day of the current session of Congress.

If this happens, and the President signs the bill into law in March or April, the “Lifetime Cellphone Number Act” will become effective sometime around early May of this year.

From May to July, the NTC will lead the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), the NPC, the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC), and other concerned government agencies and stakeholders to write the implementing rules and regulations (IRRs) of the “Lifetime Cellphone Number Act”.

After the IRRs are written and have become effective — which should be around early August — the telcos now have a maximum of six months to implement mobile number portability.

This means that we might have mobile number portability by February 2019 at the earliest — unless, of course, we can nudge government to move faster.

How can we help make mobile number portability happen?

Write, text, and call your congressman, especially if he or she is part of the House Committee on ICT, to speed up the passage of the “Lifetime Cellphone Number Act”, as well as the immediate convening of the bicameral conference committee afterwards.

Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said “the passage and operationalization of this measure, together with the long-overdue introduction of a third player, will pave the way for real competition and will ensure that where telecoms services are concerned, the Filipino consumer is king” — and he is right.

After its passage, get involved in the crafting of the IRRs of this law, and help ensure that the NTC and other involved agencies are working as hard and moving as fast as they can. Help them oppose any moves by unscrupulous people who want to stop mobile portability from happening.

Kung gusto natin ito, gagawa tayo ng paraan. Tama na ang dahi-dahilan.

The author is the co-founder and co-convenor of Democracy.Net.PH


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