MANILA, PHILIPPINES — Slow internet service, poor connection, dropped calls, exorbitant charges, disappearing load — these were among the complaints of netizens who took to Senator Grace Poe’s social media accounts to seek action against the atrocious services of telecommunications companies in the country.
Using the hashtag #TellPOEonTelco, Poe urged netizens using her Facebook and Twitter accounts to “let your voice be heard” and speak up about the services of the country’s telecommunications providers. (https://www.facebook.com/sengracepoe/) (https://twitter.com/SenGracePOE)
“We deserve good telco service, kaya’t i-share na ang inyong karanasan sa serbisyo ng text, call at internet ninyo,” she called on the public.
The post was instantly viewed and shared by social media users, and generated comments about the inadequate service of the country’s telcos.
“It’s a pity hearing the same old complaints about speed, affordability and coverage in the age of fast technology.” Poe said.
“As a consumer, I can very much relate, and so our united call to the telecommunications companies is to give us our money’s worth and improve your services,” she said.
Despite little or no improvement in their service, telcos have been raising rates using creative marketing strategies in the guise of promotions.
Telcos have slowly removed their unlimited data plan in their mobile subscriptions and shifted to volume pricing and introduced caps on prepaid and postpaid plans. This way, they are able to charge more per customer as data consumption increases and at the same time, able to cut down on heavy users.
“Meron pa silang tinatawag na Anti Bill Shock Guarantee at Shock Proof Data Charging, pero sa huli ay shocking pa rin ang buwanang bill natin,” Poe said.
“The complaints of netizens will not fall on deaf ears. We will gather them and raise them in the appropriate committee hearings, so they will have a voice in the reforms we want instituted in the telco industry,” she added.
Already, there are several bills pending before the Senate and the House of Representatives seeking wide-ranging reforms in the telecommunications industry to improve internet and mobile services in the country and make them at par with international standards.
Even President Rodrigo Duterte had warned that he might push for the opening of the local telecommunications industry to foreign competitors if they do not beef up on their services.
Poe said this reflected the same sentiment of a netizen who made a comment in her Facebook page. According to the Facebook user, “There’s no real competition. Here, it’s comparing a rotten apple with another rotten apple. It’s a duopoly, there’s no real incentive to improve service.
Poe, chairperson of the Senate committee on public services, said she is set to call for technical working group meetings to thresh out concerns surrounding prepaid load and other related issues.
Poe vowed to advance the interest of millions of mobile prepaid subscribers in the country as she pressed for longer validity periods for prepaid loads.
The advocacy group democracy.net.ph has proposed to set “dormancy periods” in which a SIM card without any call, text or data transactions for a year will be considered dormant and “dormancy deductions” in which from the time a SIM card is considered dormant, one credit will be deducted per day until the credits are zeroed out and the SIM card can finally be deactivated.
“We have to consider what is best for the highest interest of our consumers,” said Poe, adding that the current rules issued in 2009 which set a minimum validity of three days is quite brief.
“Ang mga mahihirap na kadalasang walang kapasidad na bumili nang mas mahal na load ay napupwersang bumili nang paunti-unting load sa maliit na halaga para lamang ma-maintain na active ang kanilang SIM card,” Poe added.
During the hearing, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) said the setting aside of the expiry period is feasible and suggested that this can be done based on a 17-year-old memorandum circular.
Under NTC Memorandum Circular No. 03-07-2009, loads with higher values will have longer expiration or validity periods. Credits worth P10 or lower will be valid for three days from the previous one-day expiration. Loads more than P10 up to P50 can be used for 15 days while credits worth more than P50 up to P100 will remain valid for 30 days. Loads more than P100 to P150 will expire at the end of 45 days while credits of more than P150 to P250 will last for 60 days. More than P250 to P300 will remain valid for 75 days while credits worth more than P300 will last for 120 days.
The committee tackled Senate Bill No. 848 or the proposed Prepaid Load Protection Act filed by Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto that seeks to impose penalties and fines for prohibited acts such as imposition of an expiration period on the validity of unused prepaid call and text cards, forfeiture of load credits stored on an active prepaid phone account via prepaid call and text card or electronic transfer, and refusal to give a refund on any prepaid subscriber whose load credits were forfeited without any valid cause.
A fine ranging from P100,000 to P1 million or imprisonment from two to six years or both shall be imposed on any director, officer, employee or agent of a telecommunications company providing prepaid services who shall be convicted of violating any of the prohibited acts. If the violation was committed by or in the interest of a juridical person duly licensed to engage in business in the Philippines, penalties of P500,000, suspension of license to engage in business for 30 days and immediate revocation of license to engage in business shall be imposed.