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BIZ BUZZ: Back to earth

/ 05:12 AM November 19, 2021

Transpacific Broadband Group International Inc. (TBGI) appears to be descending back to earth after it walked back an earlier announcement that heavily suggested an upcoming partnership with Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite broadband project.

Starlink, under Musk’s SpaceX, is an ambitious project to launch thousands of satellites into low earth orbit and then linking them up to create a “constellation” of spacecraft capable of zapping high-speed broadband to any point in the globe.

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From pioneering space rockets and electric vehicles, Musk is regarded as one of the greatest—and wealthiest—tech visionaries of this age. In most cases, the mere association with any of his projects provides an instant valuation premium to his would-be partners.

TBGI basked in Starlink’s moonlight for a time when it disclosed a so-called managed service agreement with a firm called ABS Global Ltd. to develop and maintain earth stations or ground transmitters that communicate with satellites.

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That was announced on Oct. 28 in a disclosure that gave the strong impression a deal with Starlink was forthcoming.

In fact, TBGI revealed the signed agreement was “specifically for LEOSAT (low earth orbit satellites) earth stations of Starlink.”

Fast forward to two weeks later, the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) notices that news organizations reported on TBGI’s Oct. 28 disclosure and asks the company to clarify.

What followed was an eyebrow-raising flip-flop. The company denied issuing any “press release” and said its officials were not interviewed, conveniently blaming the “views and interpretations” on the news authors.

TBGI went further to say Starlink was only mentioned in its disclosures because, well, it was Starlink that first said it was interested to come to the Philippines.

What about those details in the Oct. 28 filing? Forgotten. Never happened, if we go by this “clarification.”

Needless to say, TBGI shares dropped after the clarification and trended lower in the days since, losing all gains since before it hinted at the Starlink partnership.

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It’s the small investor who usually suffers in these instances. Help rarely comes in time but the good news is that the PSE has penalized firms for misleading disclosures in the past.

Starlink also has options in the Philippines. One of these is Pampanga-based businessman Dennis Anthony Uy’s Converge ICT Solutions, which we hear is finalizing its own agreements with Musk.

— Miguel R. Camus

Trading floor reopening

In what could be some semblance of business going back to normal, the trading floor of the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) is reopening by Dec. 1 just as the local bourse will welcome the last wave of stock market debutants for the year.

This means that companies listing during the final month of the year will have a little bit more audience during their bell-ringing ceremonies.

We heard that some of the trading booth regulars, however, are no longer returning to the trading floor. Some have gotten used to the work-from-home trading arrangements that they have set up since the start of the pandemic.

Some are also mindful of the costs, as the rental fee for a trading booth will increase, alongside the higher cost of maintenance and regular disinfection requirements.

Many have opted not to renew because they now find it expensive to maintain a trading booth.

But for those willing and ready to go back to the trading floor, they have to comply with new protocols.

Only fully vaccinated trading floor personnel will be allowed to enter and they must present and register their vaccination cards on or before Dec. 1. Only one personnel per trading participant will be allowed at the trading floor in compliance with social distancing protocols.

Everyone with access to the trading floor is required to fill up a health declaration form prior to entering the trading floor and wear face masks at all times while inside the PSE premises. Messengers will be allowed only at the designated PSE receiving area at the lobby.

Lastly, no visitors, guests and trainees will be allowed to enter the trading floor. Needless to say, physical distancing must be observed at all times. Welcome to the new normal.

—Doris Dumlao-Abadilla

No sleep for PLDT Home

Is the sleeping giant finally awaking?

PLDT Home head Butch Jimenez recently told a round table meeting with media that the group worked more aggressively and invested heavily since the start of the lockdown to expand and upgrade its fiber network to bolster internet access to help Filipinos cope better with the pandemic.

“We actually haven’t slept a wink but we deliberately shun the spotlight until our work generates enough momentum. And now it has,” he said.

Jimenez’s claims are backed by latest numbers released by PLDT Home and its closest competitor, Converge ICT Solutions, who together account for nearly all the customers in the fiber-to-the-home segment. Globe, meanwhile, with its aggressive effort to grab more market share, is aiming to overtake SkyCable first.

Fiber-to-the-home subscribers of PLDT Home reached 2.09 million, with over 800,000 customers added at end-September. Over the same period, Converge added more than 540,000 customers, bringing total subscribers to 1.36 million.

PLDT Home extended its fiber optic cable network to 12.7 million “homes passed” in September, and before the end of 2021 should reach 15 million—already two years ahead of the number of homes passed Converge is aiming to reach by 2023.

Since 2018, as well, the broadband network of PLDT Home has been recognized by Ookla Speedtest Awards as the fastest fixed network in the Philippines.

What’s clear is that the competition in this sector has really heated up, akin to the telco wars of the late 1990s. At the end of the day, that’s great news for the consumers.

—Daxim L. Lucas
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TAGS: Biz Buzz, Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE), PLDT Home, Starlink, Transpacific Broadband Group International Inc. (TBGI)
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