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Whisper a little player

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Whisper a little player

/ 05:18 AM November 06, 2017

Under this tough talking administration of the motorbiking Duterte Harley, the policy on the telecom sector seemed to be fixated on the “third player.”

Everybody agreed that the problem was the slow internet— slow and high priced internet.

Based on the pronouncements of Duterte Harley, this administration could simply open up the business to foreigners and, presto, the problem would go away.

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Because the sound bites came mostly from Duterte Harley himself, nobody in the administration would dare say even in whispers just a little word against it.

The entire administration regarded the “third player” as the silver bullet to slay the monster known as the PLDT-Globe “duopoly.”

To quote Duterte Harley when he revealed to news media his choice for the “third player,” which turned out to be the longtime bankrupt little player called PT&T: “Time is up for the two telecom companies.”

Well and good—let us pray that PT&T would succeed where it (plus several other companies) already failed, and it would pour hundreds of billions of pesos into the business to fight Dracula, este, the evil duopoly.

But if the “third player” is the only solution of this administration … well, heaven help us.

For us it would still be the tough catch-up game in the capital-gobbling internet infrastructure. Governments in other countries already invested in it in the past 20 years. Not private telcos, mind you, whether third or fourth or tenth player!

Really, the world already left us behind in internet. Yet we could only talk about opening up the business. How about some leapfrogging game-changer moves there, boss!

Opening up the sector would be nothing new. The administration of Kuya Eddie already did it in the 1990s with the buzzword “liberalization.” Some “eight” (not just three) players emerged then. They whittled down to two today. The others either lost all their money or could not even start at all.

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The Ramos liberalization nevertheless started us on the way to digital era, as Globe then introduced the 2G technology that allowed the cell phone explosion, and we did fine with basic text and call services for many years.

But then the technology shifted to data transmission (such as video and—like it or not—social media) through the internet.

Other countries already started building up their internet infra, still continuing their investments today. Early this year, for example, China said it would spend another $15 billion on its internet infra.

There—it was the Chinese government that invested in the infrastructure that enabled the likes of Chinese billionaire Jack Ma (founder of Alibaba) to come here personally to give us some condescending lectures on our slow internet.

Yet our beloved PCC, the Philippine Competitiveness Commission, picked up the cue from Jack Ma, saying that the internet gospel according to Jack Ma was the wake up call. Really?

(The PCC obsession on the internet and the PLDT-Globe duopoly is another story for another column one day.)

An important part of the internet infra would be the so-called national broadband network, the NBN, which the cute administration of Gloriatta tried, but failed, to do more than 12 years ago.

Like it or not, the Philippine economy needs NBN as much as other infrastructure projects like roads and mass transit systems.

Unfortunately, only the government could pursue it. The telcos, including the prospective “third player,” simply would not touch it for fear of its prohibitive cost.

Could they make it back, for instance, if NBN must give free internet service for public health and education, or even for disaster response and preparedness, which would be missionary routes, so to speak, for their poor income prospects?

The telcos would really love the NBN because they can ride on it.

Even if we succeeded in having the “one-thousandth player” in the business, none of them would do it.

The “third player” would be bound to behave as the duopoly did, because it would operate in the same environment as the duopoly. The “third player” still must put up the steep capital that it somehow must also recoup—and recoup it fast. Just like the duopoly, it would also be vulnerable to the rapid change in technology.

And so how could it be the one and only solution?

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