Thursday, June 18, 2009

The vanishing loads: Regulation in the face of ‘vultureeism’

After I’ve commented on Juan Ponce Enrile’s and Mar Roxas’s taking up the cudgels for poor Filipinos against the mobile phone companies and suggesting that the government regulate them more strictly because of their crocodile-like business practices, a reader sent information which followers of this blog may find more infuriating.

Another reader posted the article on Facebook, possibly to incite some more mobile phone users to consider banging their phones on the wall for utter helplessness in getting the mobile phone companies to serve them better, meaning, for these ‘telcos’ not to tolerate frequent ‘drop calls’ or not to steal their ‘loads’.

There is such a thing, says a reader who answers to the email, as inter-connection or network access charges, these being the rates that the ‘telcos’ charge one another for ‘crossing’ into each other’s network. A ‘telco’ crosses a network to make or connect a call or deliver a text message.

That’s from Globe to Smart to Sun to Red and vice versa, if I get it right.

The reader who sent the email said Filipinos send about 16,200 text messages per second, or two billion text messages a day. That’s a third of the world’s population of over three billion.

With 60 million mobile phone users sending these two billion messages, it’s only logical that we are called the ‘text’ capital of the world, a reputation which I don’t know if we should be proud or ashamed of.

I said this because ‘texting’ has developed its own popular culture, making idiots out of many Filipinos for their prostituted grammar and syntax, not to mention their prostitution of their own languages. But that should be for another time.

At the moment, we mobile phone users have to face the heavy burden of our mobile phone bills or ‘loads’ because the ‘telcos’ are charging us part, if not all, of the cost they pay to cross each other’s network, if the reader who answers to the email is correct.

He says the Philippines has the highest interconnection rate in Asia. This, I am sure, is a reputation we don’t want to stick on our skin.

This means that a Filipino mobile phone user pays more than anyone else when connecting to other mobile phone users using other networks. The inter-connection rate in this country of La Lola Loca is four pesos, or 9.5 cents in Uncle Sam’s money. Compare this with the rates in the following countries: Indonesia, 4.95 cents; Thailand, 2.97 cents; Malaysia, 2.55 cents; Pakistan: 2 cents; China, 0.88 cents; India, 0.71 cents; and Hong Kong, 0.56 cents.

What are we compared to Hong Kong and China economically? Yet, mobile phone users in these countries pay far, far less in network-to-network charges, he averred.

And listen to this: “In 2007, the combined gross revenue of Smart, Globe and Sun Cellular was P149.5 billion, with Smart earning P39.6 billion in text messaging alone and Globe chalking up revenues of P18.3 billion”.

In the same year, Smart earned P17.2 billion in inter-connection charges, while Globe get paid P12.8 billion for the same network access usage, according to the guy.

“To be rich is glorious.” Those were the late Deng Xiaoping’s words, but not if one profits from the ignorance or from the docile passivity of another. If one gets more than enough at the expense of consumers, how should it be called? “To be rich is gluttony?”

“How would you like to make voice calls from Smart to Globe and vice versa for less than P2.00 per minute? How would you like to send a ‘text’ message for less than fifty centavos per text? These goals are not as lofty as they seem. Ironically, the possibility of this happening rests on the unlikely shoulders of our government, specifically, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC)”, says the email sender.

He added that the NTC needs to be firm in implementing its rules.

Now, I remember that sometime ago, some do-gooders in Congress had the sudden inspiration to propose to tax text messages, but this, I think, has run into strong opposition. I don’t know from where or from whom. Our reader says that “because of some hesitation brought about by recent tax proposals, the NTC seems to need a little push, specifically to adopt its own draft circulars in implementing these game-changing rates.”

It needs a shove, my friend. Over the cliff, if necessary.

Forget the NTC. It is mired presently in court fighting for a memorandum circular which would have put the ‘telcos’ on their proper seats. The ‘telcos’ however, were able to get a judge to restrain the NTC from implementing the circular so we are f—d. All of us, just because some black-robed arbiter of the law has been ‘convinced’ that a restraining order will be a boon to mobile phone users.

How long has the court battle been pending?

And why, for Abraham’s sake, would Congress tax ‘text’ messages? This will only lead to the ‘telcos’ passing the tax to the consumers, like in “pasa-load”. This will only burden us some more. Why does Congress not order the ‘telcos’ to lower their rates on pain of revoking their franchises? You know, the government is really not that helpless. It is only inutile, most of the time, for being so spineless.

Still, I would go for the Mar Roxas proposal to review the franchises of the ‘telcos’. This is the only language they seem to understand: to be faced with a certain kind of proscription to their money-making abilities. Regulation, in the face of ‘vultureeism’, would be fine. It would be welcome.

But I would also go for my reader’s exhortation for mobile phone consumers to unite:

“And this is where you come in, (you) end-consumer of all things mobile,” he said.

I like that: “consumers of all things mobile.” Consume anything that moves.

“Your support is absolutely necessary in converting these prices from mere fiction to definitive fact. Join our call for cheaper ‘text’ and call rates. Join the Textmate Movement!” he added.

Aha! So there is a movement of ‘texters’ ready to fight for us.

I will join. . . when I get a new mobile phone. In the meantime, start that review, Senator Mar, before you get married.

No comments: