With the Senate now conducting hearings on Senate Bill No. 1302, which seeks to extend the legislative franchise of Smart, the wireless subsidiary of PLDT, Inc., Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III is urging the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to step in and direct the country’s telcos to adopt Mobile Number Portabilty (MNP) to spur competition among the country’s telecoms giants.
MNP is a feature that allows mobile phone subscribers to retain their mobile phone numbers even if they switch to a different carrier. Under the current system, the first four numbers of a mobile phone number are assigned to specific carriers, thus forcing mobile phone subscribers to change numbers when switching to a different telco.
According to Pimentel, giving consumers the right to retain their mobile phone numbers is one way to encourage competition and force telcos to improve their services.
“We have to institute measures that will remove the hurdles to real competition so that we are not held hostage by telco providers. If we are unhappy with our current provider, we should be able to bring our business elsewhere; if we see a competitor providing better deals, then we should be able to switch with as little inconvenience as possible,” said Pimentel.
Pimentel explained that most mobile phone users are reluctant to switch from one telco “because of the hassle of having to change your number and having to go through the trouble of informing all your contacts that you have a new phone number.”
According to Pimentel, this need not be the case.
“Mobile Number Portability has been available in the US since 2003. It’s now allowed in other countries, such as the Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and Hong Kong. Even our ASEAN neighbors Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam allow you to retain your number even if you shift carriers,” revealed the legislator from Mindanao.
Pimentel said that regulators in other countries require telcos to allow MNP “because they recognize that by removing the barriers to switching telcos, they are empowering consumers by giving them the power to choose.”
“There is no reason Filipino consumers should be denied this feature. The technology allows for this,” explained the senator.
“The NTC knows that the numbers assigned to particular telcos do not belong to these telcos; these are, in a manner of speaking, owned by the government, and we are in a position to require telcos to allow their customers to retain these numbers even if their customers want to switch to their competitors.”
Pimentel added that MNP can be implemented not just with postpaid accounts but with prepaid accounts as well. The NTC, Pimentel said, should take the appropriate measures to activate the feature so that all mobile phone subscribers have the freedom to choose the network that can provide them with reliable mobile communications and information services at rates that are affordable and reasonable.
“I am aware that making MNP available in our country will entail costs on the part of our telcos. But given the billions of pesos they make each year, this is the least they can do for long-suffering subscribers who have a litany of complaints, but have limited options,” said Pimentel.
Smart reported that it earned almost eight billion pesos in revenues in the first half of 2016 alone. Globe, its main competitor, reported similar numbers, and revealed that it earned almost nine billion pesos in profits in the same period.
“Dapat malinaw: kakampi natin dapat ang NTC, hindi sila kakampi ng mga telcos. (It should be clear: the NTC should be on our side, not on the side of the telcos.) The NTC should encourage real competition and give us the power to choose and help us force telcos to improve data speeds, to provide clearer voice calls, to eliminate dropped calls, and to ensure that our text messages arrive on time.”