Telcos hale NTC to court over SMS refund case

by Lorenz S. Marasigan, BusinessMirror

Posted at May 13 2014 07:37 AM | Updated as of May 13 2014 03:37 PM

MANILA - The wireless subsidiaries of Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) will officially bring their multibillion-peso refund case to the Court of Appeals, the telco controlled by businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan announced on Monday in a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange.

Smart Communications Inc., the dominant carrier, said it will seek to overturn an order of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) that the three top telcos reimburse their subscribers for higher bills they charged after refusing to lower the cost of off-net text messages.

“This is an issue which needs to be resolved by the court and as such, Smart intends to refer this ruling to the Court of Appeals as the NTC ruling has not yet attained finality and it cannot be implemented at this time,” PLDT said in the regulatory filing.

Digitel Mobile Philippines Inc. (DMPI—operator of Sun Cellular—would also seek the assistance of the appellate court, PLDT Spokesman Ramon I. Isberto told the BusinessMirror in a text message. “We will file the appeal within the period provided by the appeals procedure. It’s hard to pin down a specific date at this point.”

Globe Telecom Inc. has yet to finalize its strategy on the matter.

“We are studying all legal remedies, including bringing the case to the Court of Appeals—but that is just one of the options that we have,” Globe Spokesman Yolanda C. Crisanto said in a phone interview.

The NTC decided against the separate petitions of Smart, Sun Cellular and Globe that called for the reconsideration of its 2011 circular that ordered them to reduce the cost of off-net text messages to 80 centavos each.

As such, they were required to refund their subscribers for the excess 20 centavos they paid per regular short message service (SMS).

As of end-April, NTC estimates that total refund would amount to roughly P7 billion, computed since it issued the December 2011 memorandum.

The telcos are also required to pay P160,000 each for not complying with an earlier ruling.

The three firms were given 15 days from Thursday to file a counter-complaint with the appellate court.

Smart, Sun, and Globe are required to submit documents and reports on the total number of off-net texts that were sent since December 1, 2011, to determine how much they have to reimburse their subscribers.

The refund would come in the form of load credits for prepaid subscribers and bill rebates for postpaid subscribers. There are more than 100 million mobile subscribers in the country as of the end of the first quarter of 2014.
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