Cheap on PCC shoulder
But who looks over the shoulder of the PCC?
That is a question that nobody asks about this relatively new antitrust quasi-judicial body, the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC), even with the apparent chip on its shoulder against PLDT and Globe.
For almost the past whole year of its existence, the PCC has been embroiled in a fight against the duopoly.
The PCC does not even touch the mighty power generation and distribution sectors, made famous by a “regulatory capture” that has ended in the country having the second highest electricity rates in Asia.
We really have no working mechanism to know whether or not the PCC is doing a damn good job.
As a result of its fight with PLDT and Globe, punctuated by its decision to file a case all the way to the Supreme Court, the PCC in effect forces the telcos to hold back billions of pesos in investments.
A good part of that would naturally go to infrastructure such as fiber optic cables and new cell sites that this country needs to update its internet service.
The two companies already spent almost P70 billion just to pay San Miguel Corp. for its idle but coveted 700 megahertz spectrum.
In May last year, when PLDT and Globe announced the deal to the public, they promised to roll out the spectrum to speed up their mobile broadband services in just one year.
We are now past their self-imposed deadline. Tell me, do you now enjoy fast broadband connection?
The administration of the motorbiking Duterte Harley claimed that, under its watch so far, our broadband service has already improved.
Still, we lag behind our neighbors, including Vietnam, thanks to the ongoing fight between PCC and the two telcos.
In the end, the public— the more than 40 million users of mobile broadband service in this country—must make do with weak and slow internet.
To top it all, it does not look that PCC and the telcos can soon resolve their freaking quarrel.
The head of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), Secretary Rodolfo Salalima, already joined in the fray.
When the DICT recently inaugurated its “free Wi-Fi project” along Edsa, Salalima took a swipe at PCC chair Arsenio Balisacan for, well, basically talking too much.
A former National Economic and Development Authority head during the Aquino (Part II) administration, which just had to rush the formation of the PCC and allowed it to put its own people in the commission with tenured positions, Balisacan has been highly critical of the NTC lately.
That is the National Telecommunications Commission, to which Balisacan threw a cheap shot, calling it incompetent and corrupt—okay, “not transparent”—because it allowed PLDT and Globe to use the 700-Mhz band from San Miguel. Instead, the PCC wanted the telcos to surrender the spectrum to the NTC.
Taken another way, the PCC wants the 700-Mhz band confiscated.
In turn, the government would then allocate the frequencies to new telcos in the future, including a supposed “third” player, if indeed there will be one at all.
In a way, the PCC only wants open competition with the entry of the “third” player, because it can be easy for only two telcos to connive.
In the past, the “third” player called Sun Cellular tried to tap the ultra retail character of the local market, known in the vernacular as “tingi,” by launching its “unli” pre-paid packages. It’s just that Sun Cellular lost heavily and it had to sell out.
Nothing is wrong with the “concept” of the PCC, as it wants to create a fresh start for the telco industry by warehousing the 700-Mhz spectrum.
No matter its intent, however, the PCC cannot be more knowledgeable than the technical guys in NTC about mobile technology.
It does not matter that the PCC has a whole team to study the telco sector by doing heavy research through Google.
Anyway, when Salalima finally broke his silence on the issue, he noted that the PCC must limit itself to “anti-competitive issues” in the telco industry.
That, after all, minus the nosebleed technicalities on “transitory rule” or “deemed approved” or whatever, was the original reason why the PCC held back its approval of the P70-billion deal.
Still, despite his recent outburst, Salalima does not hold any sway over the PCC.
Nobody simply looks over the shoulder of this powerful body.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.