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Lawmaker wants telcos fined P50M for bad Internet service

Telecommunications companies may be forced to pay up to P50 million for poor Internet service if a new piece of legislation being pushed at the House of Representatives becomes a law.

House Deputy Minority Leader and LPGMA party-list Rep. Arnel Ty said he is pushing for the passage of a new piece of legislation that will revise and update the fine on telcos that are unable to live up to mandatory quality standards for Internet connectivity and mobile services.

He said there are pending bills in Congress seeking to raise the maximum fine for telcos to any amount as may be deemed appropriate by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), provided it shall not exceed P50 million.

At present, the NTC may only impose a P200 fine on telcos for each day they offer services that do not meet quality benchmarks. The amount is based on a 78-year-old law, the Public Service Act of 1936.

“Telcos would rather risk paying the paltry fine than upgrade their services,” Ty said.

Also, he said that under the Consumer Act of 1992, the government has a mandate to protect the interest of consumers, including mobile phone and broadband subscribers, and to establish standards of conduct for the telco industry.

At a recent Senate hearing, Sen. Loren Legarda berated officials of telcos for their unreliable broadband services.

“As we speak, there is no Internet (access) in my office. Internet (access) is either absent or excruciatingly low, which is so frustrating. I don’t like high-tech answers, please. Gusto ko maintindihan. Ang mahal ng singil, bakit ganon?” Legarda said.

Executives from telcos attributed the problem to severe congestion in service areas with high concentrations of broadband users.

According to an infographic posted by ASEAN DNA last April, Internet speed in the Philippines is the slowest in the whole Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at 3.6 megabytes per second (Mbps).

The average Internet speed for the ASEAN region is 12.4 Mbps, or roughly four times faster than current Internet speed in the Philippines.

Basic service

In order to improve the quality of service provided by telcos, Ty said the country’s telecommunications laws need to be overhauled “to make them highly responsive to rapidly evolving new technologies.”

Under an amended telecommunications law, broadband or high-speed Internet access should be classified as a “basic service,” along with voice calls and text messaging, he said.

Broadband Internet access is currently categorized as a value-added service, meaning its speed and price are supposed to be dictated by the free market.

“In the case of broadband, we have to enable the NTC to push for greater public access to the service via minimum quality standards and reasonable user rates,” he added.

Earlier, Ty filed House Resolution 186, demanding a congressional inquiry into the deteriorating services of telcos.

In his resolution, the lawmaker noted that a growing number of consumer complaints received by the NTC pertain to blocked calls (denied access by the network), dropped calls (involuntarily disconnected), delayed call setup, inadequate reception, and deficient broadband services.

Aside from poor signal quality, wherein voice transmission in an ongoing call becomes choppy or garbled, Ty also cited complaints that it takes a long time for subscribers to get the first ring after dialing a called party.

“The degraded services may be due to extreme congestion. It would appear that telcos have been taking on an incremental number of subscribers every quarter, without building up their networks fast enough, their huge earnings notwithstanding,” he said. — Xianne Arcangel /LBG, GMA News