Solon: Telcos’ failures magnified by pandemic

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House Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte on Sunday highlighted the costly shortcomings of local telecommunications companies (telcos) in improving their services, which otherwise could have put the Philippines in a much better position to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte

“Their epic failure for years now in bringing up their services to world-class standards have been magnified at this time of the coronavirus pandemic when superior Internet connectivity would have greatly aided national efforts to switch right away to digital technology and online transactions, in practice of physical distancing to avoid COVID-19 infection,” Villafuerte said.

“The President is thus right to give these telcos a December 2020 deadline to dramatically improve Internet connectivity all over the country,” he said, referring to a key remark in President Duterte’s fifth State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) last July 27.

The Chief Executive warned telcos in his SONA: “If you are not ready to improve and … I might just as well close all of you and we revert back to the line telephone at kukunin ko yan, i-expropriate ko sa gobyerno (I will expropriate those for the government).”

Villafuerte said it was way back in 2017 when he appealed to the country’s telco giants to provide better services. He also filed House Bill (HB) No. 1299, which sought to give consumers a venue to air their complaints against the errant firms.

The Camarines Sur lawmaker and former governor was referring to his proposal in the previous Congress to require the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to come up with a comprehensive and efficient system for subscribers to report their complaints of substandard services from their respective telco providers.

That same year, Villafuerte called on the Congress to legislate minimum quality standards for mobile telephone services in a bid to penalize telcos that were guilty of “horrendous” complaints from subscribers such as poor network signals, overcharging, interrupted or dropped voice calls, vanishing prepaid loads, and the surge of spam messages.

“Had these (telcos) invested in improving their service long before the pandemic struck, then they would have provided the country a great service, especially at this time when we are in urgent need of digital tools for distance education, contactless transactions, and e-commerce,” he noted.

Globe and PLDT-Smart’s supposed blaming of local government units (LGUs) for their poor service also didn’t make sense with the House Deputy Speaker.

He wondered why telcos continue to gripe about red tape when Republic Act (RA) No. 11032, or the Ease of Doing Business (EODB) Law of 2018, had already amended the Anti-Red Tape Act precisely to, among others, provide the public and businesses with an effective mechanism to ensure prompt action on, or resolution of, their government transactions.

He said Globe and Smart executives should identify which LGUs have supposedly delayed the issuance of their permits to build more cellsite towers and other telecommunications infrastructure, which they have cited for years as the reason for their failure to improve their telecommunications services.

“I challenge these telcos to submit their applications for tower rollouts in CamSur because I guarantee them that Gov. Migz Villafuerte will process their permits in an expeditious manner,” said Villafuerte, referring to his son.

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