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Gatchalian: NTC needs ‘super’ powers to control telcos

Youngsters browse social media on their smartphones at the CCP in Pasay City. Telecommunications, Senator Gatchalian said, is a public utility that must be regulated to ensure customers are getting the value that they are paying for. (Photo by Mark Cayabyab)

Senator Win Gatchalian is asserting the need to confer the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) with “super” powers to more effectively carry outs its regulatory mandate over powerful players in the telecommunications industry.

Gatchalian, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs, is recommending that the NTC be granted additional authority to allow it to more effectively discipline erring or incompetent telecommunication companies.

The recommendation will be among the salient points that Gatchalian will include in the committee report. He plans to submit to the plenary in relation to the committee discussions on Senate Resolution No. 213, which called on the Senate to look into the economic effects on consumers and the national economy of the present model of operation and regulation of the telco industry.

“The objective here is to see if we have enough regulatory mechanisms to make the playing field even. Telecommunications is a public utility, and just like other public utilities, it has to be regulated to make sure that the playing field is even, to make sure that customers are getting the value that they are paying for.” Gatchalian said.

Gatchalian noted admissions made during the committee hearing last week that the NTC has been hard put at imposing drastic penalties against telcos which fail to deliver satisfactory services to consumers.

He cited as example the disclosure of NTC Deputy Commissioner Edgardo Cabarios that they have failed to compel industry giants GLOBE and SMART to deliver the minimum speed of 12 mbps in Internet connectivity that their advertisements guarantee to their subscribers.

Cabarios said that since the NTC and the two telcos differ on the issue of whether or not data connection speed limits can be imposed, the NTC has opted to be silent on the issue “because of the limitations in the law.”

He added that the measly penalty of P200 per day for non-compliance to NTC regulations is likewise not a deterrent to the telcos.

Gatchalian promised to plug the loopholes in the NTC charter and give the agency more latitude to flex its muscles. “The NTC needs more teeth to better regulate the telecoms industry. I will make sure that it gets the same powers like the ERC (Energy Regulatory Commission),” he said.

The ERC is the body that regulates the energy sector. It has extensive powers, including quasi-judicial powers, to control and penalize erring power companies.