Telecoms duopoly in PH remains

MANILA — — It seems that not even President Rodrigo Duterte can end the “duopoly” or shared monopoly of the Philippine telecommunications industry presently held by Globe Telecoms and PLDT/Smart.

Almost a year ago, Mr. Duterte ordered the opening of the telecoms industry to a third player, after mounting consumer complaints against the stranglehold of the Ayala-owned Globe and Manny Pangilinan-controlled PLDT/Smart on the key industry.

The long-delayed bidding to set up the third telco was originally scheduled for this week, but Philippine Telegraph and Telephone Corp (PT&T) went to court to question certain provisions in the selection process.

PT&T president Jaime Velasquez said that the NTC’s terms were “discriminatory” and “anti-Filipino.”

Another wannabe to the multi-billion peso market, NOW Telecom, also took the NTC to court, accusing the government regulatory body of engaging in “money-making schemes” in the terms of reference for the bidding.

The Philippines has one of the slowest internet speeds in Asia and calls and text messages failing to reach the intended recipients are commonplace with both Globe and PLDT/Smart.

The president initially ordered that a third player be granted a franchise by March of this year. The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), however, said that it would not be possible and kept extending the deadline set by the president.

Two weeks ago, it was announced that the Villar Group of Companies owned by “Brown Taipan” and former presidential candidate Manny Villar had won the right to set up the country’s third telco.

Late last week, however, Villar announced that his company would no longer pursue its plan to do battle with Globe and PLDT/Smart. His conglomerate backed out after determining that it would have a hard time putting up the minimum P50 billion (roughly $1 billion) capitalization necessary to set up a nationwide network.

Controversial businessman/politician ChavitSingson also wanted to bid for the project in partnership with TierOne Communications, promising a dramatic drop in the rates charged by Globe the PLDT/Smart. But he, too, backed away when he learned of the requirements imposed by the NTC.

Earlier, President Duterte had stated that Chinese telecoms giant China Telecom or ZTE Corp. would become the country’s third telco, but  negotiations fell through. The latter had previously tried to set up a nationwide internet network during the Arroyo administration, but the plans were scrapped after the then First Gentleman was found to have interfered in the Chinese company’s behalf.

Two years ago, the San Miguel Corp. announced that it would be setting up that long sought after third telco in partnership with an Australian company. SMC, however, shelved the plan due to the huge expense involved.

The Philippines did have a third telco previously. Sun Telecoms owned by the Gokongwei group was able to enter the market and competed with the two giants for a while, only to give up and sell the company lock, stock and barrel to PLDT/Smart.

With this week’s delay, Filipino consumers will have to wait a little longer before they have a third choice of which telco to subscribe to.