Telcos’ unli-profit scheme must expire – youth solon

KABATAAN Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino lauded the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) today for directing telecom companies to reimburse their subscribers the excess P0.20 charged for every off-net SMS, or text messages sent from one network to another.

“NTC’s renewed assertion of its regulatory functions to protect consumers’ rights is highly laudable. Telcos should not be charging more than necessary for a service as essential as SMS,” Palatino said.

“The expiration of the unli-profit scheme utilized by telcos to overcharge consumers has long since passed. NTC must stand its ground and implement the SMS refund immediately,” he added.

Yesterday, the NTC directed three telecom companies, namely Globe, Smart and Sun, to refund to their subscribers the excess P0.20 the companies have been charging for off-net text messages. The said order stemmed from Memorandum Circular 02-10-2011, which lowered the interconnection charges for SMS from 35 to 15 centavos per message and effectively reduced the rate of each text message from P1 to P0.80.

“The NTC pointed out that the savings realized from the reduced interconnection charge on SMS sent to other networks was formulated not to simply benefit the telcos but was intended for them to pass on the savings to their subscribers,” the memorandum read.

The said memo was supposed to take effect as early as November last year. However, telcos did not comply to the said order, which resulted to the overcharging of at least P1.42 billion.  Based on 2010 NTC data, around 20 million off-net messages are sent each day.

“Profit-driven telcos have long exploited the lax regulations on SMS in the country to squeeze more money from their subscribers. It is but just to refund the millions they have illegally collected to consumers,” Palatino – one of the convenors of SMS advocacy group TXTPower – explained.

Palatino also urged Congress to pass stricter regulatory laws on mobile phone text and call rates, particularly House Bill No. 5653 or the “Mobile Phone Subscribers Act,” which was principally authored by Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño.

HB 5653 seeks to “promote the rights of mobile phone subscribers by regulating prices, requiring telecommunications service companies to provide detailed billing of both prepaid credits and postpaid consumption, number portability, lowered pulse rate and other service improvements” for the benefit of over 100 million mobile phone subscribers in the country.

The said bill, of which Palatino is a co-author, has been pending in the House Committee on Trade and Industry since January this year.

“Telcos have been exploiting consumers for so long. Kahit na may mga unli promo na sila, lumalabas na daan-daang milyon pa rin ang nakukulimbat nila sa overcharging,” Palatino said.

“The case of the telcos’ blatant disobedience of NTC regulations just illustrates how toothless the said regulatory body is at present. We need a stronger law to protect mobile phone users from the rash effect of the deregulated telecom industry,” Palatino added.

“Text messaging is an essential tool for communication in this day and age. The youth sector will always oppose any move that will increase the cost of SMS, including the profiteering schemes of telcos and new text tax legislations,” the youth solon said, referring to recent moves to revive the text tax bill following the suggestion of International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde.

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