New NTC order on prepaid load validity wins praise

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 04 2009 02:12 AM | Updated as of Jul 04 2009 10:12 AM

MANILA - Text-savvy Pinoys are heaping praise on a new regulatory order extending the validity period of prepaid mobile phone credits.

Consumer advocacy group TXTPower welcomed Friday a National Telecommunications Commission order on prepaid mobile phone credits but pointed out that the issue is just one of a myriad of mobile phone-related consumer complaints.

“We hope the telcos will comply and not fight this order, and that the NTC should see to it that it is enforced,” Leon Dulce, TXTPower spokesperson and Data Visualization team head of the Computer Professionals’ Union (CPU), said in a press statement.

Several students interviewed by ABS-CBN News said the extension on the validity of mobile phone credits is a welcome relief from the experience of instantly vanishing prepaid load.

"This is really important because sometimes you're texting something important and then it says 'Check operator services.' Now the validity of the load is longer," one student noted.

One student said she had to consume all her credits at night since it would expire by morning, prompting her to go on all-night text binges. "We're going to save a lot on load and on our allowance," she quipped.

Mobile phone users in the Philippines send approximately two billion text messages daily, according to the NTC. On Friday, the commission released memorandum circular 03-07-2009 that would extend the validity period for prepaid mobile phone credits.

The new rates and validity period are: P10 or lower-3 days; over P10 to P50-15 days; over P50 to P100-30 days; over P100 to P150-45 days; over P150 to P250-60 days; over P250 to P300-75 days; and over P300-120 days.

NTC Commissioner Ruel Canobas said all mobile phone network operators will be required to provide their subscribers call data records upon request free of charge. Mobile phone users should likewise be able to check their credit balance for free.

"We didn't just draft these guidelines without consultations with the industry and of course, consumers," he said.

The new directives were made following a public uproar over "vanishing" prepaid phone credits. No less than Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile complained that his prepaid phone credits expired after a few days. Senate hearings on the issue were held, and consumer watchdogs had latched on the issue to hammer on complaints against the phone operators.

Mobile phone network operator Sun Cellular, however, said overextending the validity period for prepaid load credits could tax their system, which would need upgrading. "Hopefully, these [development costs] would not be so big that we would pass it on to the consumer," Atty. Bill Pamintuan, SVP legal affairs of Sun Cellular, said

Consumer complaints


Aside from vanishing phone credits, Filipino mobile phone users also complain about charges "illegally" collected and passed on to consumers, unsolicited messages or spam, interrrupted or dropped calls, missed calls, and messages the network failed to send.

Dulce said the CPU recently conducted an online mobile users’ survey to document cases and complaints regarding mobile use, which will be later presented to the NTC. The survey can be accessed at www.cp-union.com/mobileusers.

In the survey, half of the respondents complained of network access problem (sending and receiving messages, busy network on call attempt), lack of network coverage, expiring and disappearing load credits. The survey also recorded 28 percent of complaints on dropped calls. Inaccurate billing is also raised by about seven percent of the respondents.

"These are clear indications that even with huge profits, telcos still fail to satisfy mobile users," said Dulce. "Expiring and disappearing loads without valid reason is the same as robbing users with their hard-earned money."

Mobile phone usage in the country has leapfrogged from being an upper and business classes' luxury in the late nineties, to a communication necessity among the country's about 90 million population. Following decades of inefficient and monopolized landline-based phone services, deregulation of the telecommunications industry in the mid-1990's led to the entry of several phone players. Among the firms that offered mobile phone services, text messaging service proved to be the "killer application" that enticed millions of Filipinos to subscribe.

The industry had several milestones thereafter. The introduction of prepaid services in the early part of the decade meant even those who have no proof credit-worthiness, as in the case of post-paid services, could already have access to the mobile service.

Not long after, leading mobile phone companies Smart Communications and Globe Telecom introduced 'sachet'-like phone credits that could be shared over the airwaves. These low denomination phone credits, however, expired after a day or more to suit the phone companies' financial and technical capacity to handle these high-volume-low-premium transactions.

As of December 2008, the country has 68 million subscribers, translating to a 76 percent penetration rate. By 2013, penetration rate is expected to hit more than 150 percent, meaning each Filipino will likely be subscribed to more than one phone operator.

Local mobile phone companies, which have been cashing in on the consistently growing number of subscribers, are some of the most profitable in the country. With a report from Zen Hernandez, ABS-CBN News