Altimax license bid blocked by cable group

By Lenie Lectura, Business Mirror

Posted at Mar 02 2009 12:20 AM | Updated as of Mar 02 2009 10:57 PM

The Philippine Cable Television Association (PCTA), a group representing the country’s more than 400 cable TV operators, plans to block the appeal lodged by Altimax Broadcasting Co. Inc. before the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to renew its authority to operate broadcasting service.

This early, MediaScape Inc.—formerly GV Broadcasting Systems Inc. and a member of PCTA—filed on Friday an opposition to the motion for reconsideration filed by Altimax. MediaScape is a unit of MediaQuest Holdings Inc., which is an investee company of the PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund.

“We have opposed even before previous motions of Altimax and now we are going to file another opposition. Altimax, even if it has found a new investor, cannot use that as ground to force the NTC to revive its provisional authority [PA]. Altimax has been given so many chances in the past. It is no longer operational, as it has admitted, so why will the NTC change its decision?,” PCTA president Allan Dungao pointed out in an interview on Friday.

To support its bid, Altimax said Bethlehem Holdings Inc. (BHI) has acquired equity interest in the telco.

BHI—in partnership with the Globe Telecom Group of Companies or the Globe Group—bought 39 percent of Altimax in December last year, representing 7,800 shares in Altimax for P780,000.

BHI is an investee of the Globe Group Retirement Fund (GRF) through the latter’s holding company, HALO Holdings Inc. Formed in 2007, BHI is a holding company interested to invest in enterprises that provide broadcast content and broadcast-related services to mobile service providers. Its authorized capital stock was increased to P850 million last year.

MediaScape, in its filing with the NTC, said that aside from the provisional authority, Altimax’s congressional franchise should likewise be revoked.

“[Altimax] has not commenced its operations within one year from the time of the approval of its PA by the NTC nor has it commenced any operations at all within three years from effectivity of its franchise on July 28, 1997, clearly contravening the express provisions of its very own franchise,” MediaScape pointed out.

It has been eight years since Altimax obtained from the NTC its authority to operate and maintain the Direct Broadcast Satellite Service (DBBS). Its permit was extended by the NTC twice but still failed to operate the broadcast service.

The NTC, in its January 30, 2009 order, said it had no other recourse but to deny the company’s motion for another extension. The agency also denied a similar application from Altimax to operate a multichannel multipoint distribution system (MMDS) for the same reason.

“The fact that it needed to tap an investor as BHI only goes to show that Altimax never had the financial and technical capacity to undertake the service as it has represented at the time of its application and during the period within which its PA was in effect,” said MediaScape.

And since Altimax wanted to modify its technical platform which entails the convergence of MMDS and satellite service in order to operate a wireless cable television, it should have filed a new and separate application and not lump it with another mode of operation, MediaScape pointed out.

BHI, the BusinessMirror earlier reported, is also in the process of acquiring Broadcast Enterprises & Affiliated Media Inc. (Beam).

“The BHI-Globe-Beam alliance brings to the fore more marketing and technical expertise, infrastructure and technology, experience, manpower, and financial stability to Altimax,” the latter said.

Altimax added that it can leverage on Globe’s pervasive sales and distribution network. It added that commercial arrangements with the Globe Group facilitated by entry of BHI will enable delivery of converged broadband.

It is expected that the Altimax-Beam alliance can deliver Direct-to-User (DTU) wireless cable TV to their combined clientele. “Again, both firms shall be able to bank on merged resources for the development and implementation of a sound DTU service proposition. This will promote the rollout of DTU in unserved areas of the country,” added Altimax.