Court rejects BellTel appeal on Express Telecom case

By Lenie Lectura, Business Mirror

Posted at Jul 15 2009 11:16 AM | Updated as of Jul 16 2009 05:17 AM

MANILA - Bell Telecommunication Philippine Inc.’s (BellTel) appeal to intervene in the court case filed by Trans Digital Excel Inc., the creditor turned major shareholder of Express Telecommunications Co. Inc. (Express Telecom), against the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has been turned down by the court.

There is a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the NTC sought to enjoin the regulators from enforcing a proposed circular on the reallocation of wireless local loop (WLL) frequencies to broadband wireless access (BWA) service. BellTel filed a motion to intervenem, saying this hampers its rollout plan for a GSM (global system for mobile communication) network.

BellTel is the holder of frequency band 1710-1720/1805-1815 Megahertz (MHz), the same spectrum that is subject to reallocation by the NTC.

But Judge Antonio Eugenio Jr. of the Regional Trial Court in Makati City Branch 24 denied BelTel’s motion. He said in a one-page order that if BellTel’s motion, if allowed, will “unduly delay the hearing and resolution of the injunction.”

Trans Digital had argued that BellTel cannot intervene because the court case is part of the corporate rehabilitation proceeding involving Express Telecom.

Being neither a creditor nor a debtor of Express Telecom, TransDigital said BellTel does not have any interest in the success of the cellular firm’s rehabilitation.

“BellTel cannot come before this court seeking to intervene in a corporate rehab proceeding on the basis of a supposed legal interest in a frequency which it erroneously presumes to own as if by some divine right,” Trans Digital had said.

Trans Digital said there was no truth to BellTel’s claim that it had been assigned the frequency band. “BellTel has no litigable interest to justify the proposed intervention. Sight should not be lost of the fact that the NTC proposed circular which is the subject of Trans Digital’s application for injunctive relief seeks to reallocate the frequency band from WLL to BWA. Even if the proposed circular is issued, BellTel can only use the frequency for BWA applications and not for its purported GSM rollout.”

Trans Digital is suing the NTC so it could not proceed with the implementation of the draft circular. To do so, it said, will interfere with Express Telecom’s frequency band 1720-1725/1815-1820 MHz, which is assigned for GSM.

BellTel pointed out that any resolution of Trans Digital’s motion would indubitably affect its rights over its use of frequency band. “Clearly, BellTel’s intervention is necessary to protect its rights over the use of said frequency band,” the company had said.

BellTel informed the NTC that its frequency band would be used for a GSM rollout and will not interfere with Express Telecom’s frequencies. But the NTC, according to BellTel, has not acted on its clarification. “BellTel’s plan to develop its GSM network is being stalled, and is affecting its income and investments,” it said.

The company added that the 1800MHz spectrum was assigned by the NTC for WLL use. But when the NTC granted BellTel a mobile phone license in 2007, it has now asked the NTC to use the frequencies for mobile use.

BellTel is a 100-percent Filipino-owned company licensed to provide fixed, internet and leased line services, as well as data services nationwide, particularly in special economic zones.

The Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) Group was once interested in BellTel “but it never got off,” an official of PLDT’s unit Smart Communications Inc. said.

Smart chief wireless adviser Orlando Vea had said in an earlier interview that the talks between PLDT and BellTel were “very preliminary.

“Yes, there were talks before but not now. There are no more talks happening now. The discussions never took off,” said the Smart official.

Sources said Smart wants to acquire BellTel for its frequencies which can be utilized for WiMax (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) technology, touted to be the next generation after 3G (third generation). BellTel, however, denied this.

Vea did not say why the talks ended but he said Smart now has Primeworld Digital Systems Inc. (PDSI), which the cellular firm acquired in May in a bid to strengthen the cellular firm’s leading position in the wireless broadband business.