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NTC's proposed data caps violate consumer rights, lawyer says

December 29, 2010 8:42pm
UPDATED 30DEC2010, 6PM International rights lawyer Romel Bagares warned that the National Telecommunications Commission's (NTC's) proposal to allow data volume caps goes against consumers' basic right to information.

In the latest version of its draft Memorandum Order (MO) on Minimum Speed of Broadband Connections, the NTC included a clause that, if approved, would allow telcos to place restrictions on how much information can be accessed by individual users on any given day.

NTC Common Carriers Authorization Department Director Edgardo Cabarios told GMANews.TV that local telcos are considering a daily per user limit of 5GB.

"There were apprehensions raised [by telcos] over abusive users. This [data cap] is meant to discourage unfair use, to give everyone a chance. The idea is to protect the majority of consumers," Cabarios said.

He admitted that "abusive users" — including software and movie pirates — account for just one to two percent of Filipino broadband consumers. Unfortunately, according to Cabarios, such heavy users prevent the rest of the public from fully utilizing broadband connections.

Hindering people's right to information

However, Bagares, executive director of the Philippine Center for International Law, warned that data volume caps directly hinder people's basic right to information.

"Whistleblower sites such as WikiLeaks process large amounts of information. Also, especially in the Philippines, you have many public schools that use the Internet heavily for educational purposes. Putting in caps would prevent people from sharing as well as receiving information," he explained.

An affront to consumers

Bagares also said that the clause is an affront to consumers' interests.

"This is against consumers' interests, because you have people suffering from 'bill shock' as well as denying their right to information," he told GMANews.TV.

"bill shock" is a term in the telecommunications industry that refers to the surprise a consumer experiences upon receiving a higher-than-expected bill.

"It's normal human behavior not to carefully look at one's bill. In any case, convergent technologies now allow people to surf the net through their mobile phones, making it more difficult to monitor one's personal consumption," Bagares explained.

Bagares also questioned why caps should be implemented on account of so few abusive users.

"Konti lang ang pirates! (There are so few pirates!) You're punishing the majority [of the public] for the actions of a very few tech-savvy individuals," he said.

NTC: 'It's just a draft'

The NTC was quick to clarify that the draft MO is still open for revision and that the agency welcomes public opinion on the matter.

GMANews.TV was able to acquire the latest copy of the draft MO as of December 2010.

"WHEREAS, it has been observed that few subscribers/users connect to the internet for unreasonably long period [sic] of time depriving other users from connecting to the internet; NOW, THEREFORE... Service providers may set the maximum volume of data allowed per subscriber/user per day," it said.

Telcos seek 'to prevent network abuse'

"(This) particular clause was suggested by public and public telecommunications entities to prevent network abuse by unscrupulous subscribers who violate intellectual property laws, particularly on copyright, by downloading movies and software, similar to abusive subscribers of unlimited call/text promotions which were primarily designed for person-to-person use but used for voluminous commercial undertakings," explained NTC public relations officer Paolo Arceo in a statement sent to GMANews.TV on December 30.

"These types of network abuse limit accessibility to a few instead of providing adequate access for all of the subscribers. Commercial or high volume users may avail of other internet connection packages which have committed higher speeds and allow heavy data exchanges," he added.

Moreover, the draft MO has been well-received by local telcos.

"[The clause] is consistent with the demands of fair use. This guarantees that abusive consumers of broadband/internet service do not monopolize available capacity to the detriment of other paying customers. The definition of the volume cap can be left to the individual telecommunications providers to define based on the different service plan offers they provide, all in the spirit of competition," said Philippine Chamber of Telecommunications Operators president Atty. Rodolfo A. Salalima in a letter to NTC commissioner Gamaliel A. Cordoba.

Cabarios said that the MO has undergone several revisions since September, in an effort to promote fair use of broadband connections among local consumers.

"We are definitely going to have another public consultation in January, after the Christmas break, so that more people can attend," Cabarios concluded.

You may get in touch with the author via Twitter at @tjdimacali. — KBK, GMANews.TV
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