By: Jun Ledesma
Last Monday’s Cabinet meeting saw Pres. Rodrigo Duterte blew his top when he was appraised by DICT Sec. Eliseo Rio that some telecom firms aspiring to be the 3rd Telecom Player in the country requested to extend the March 15 deadline to May, for them to submit their documents to show proof they have the credentials to compete with the PLDT/Smart and Globe duopoly. Earlier he was already fuming mad over PLDT’s Manny Pangilinan overture that government must re-imburse PLDT a sum of P3-billion alleging that they pour billions of pesos using the Connectivity Unlimited Resource Enterprises (CURE) frequency.
Duterte did not buy that story. The man spent a lot of time studying the rudiments of information and communications technology and the internet of things after early in his presidency, MVP casually made a remarks that the new adminstration should leave the telecom industry and made inference that none in the Duterte cabinet have the grasp of the complexities of ICT.
They gravely underestmated the man maybe because he kept on saying his passing average was anywhere between 75% and 79%. Up to this time not a few fell into that trap, the President’s humor to spice his speech to make them listen to the rest of his message. As you see, Duterte is not a good speaker in the caliber of his predecessors, but he is the most listened to. Just separate the chaffs from the grains and you have the most sterling speech that is full of political wisdom and doable projects.
Consider these: What is so complicated in learning that CURE was an enfranchised entity controlled by Roberto Ongpin and was one of the four awardees that was given a frequency band of two x 10 MHz in a “beauty contest “ staged by NTC to bring 3G mobile network in the country since existing 2G networks can’t offer higher data service. For a bar passer like Duterte who knows the Consitution and can recite articles from it without groping for the next word, this item is so simple to absorb.
Before Duterte was insulted for someone’s remark that his knowledge of telecom technology and the industry itself is zero, he researched and then learned the other three awardees were Smart , Globe and Digitel. This is not a very challenging data to imbibe.
From there, he learned that other than the regular recurring payment of spectrum user’s fee ( SUF) , the government has not imposed any upfront fee on the awardees. Now that is very revealing so now we are beginning to understand where Duterte is coming from when PLDT/Smart demanded that the government has to pay P3-billion for the frequency it had awarded for free!
Thus, we hear the President speak with confidence that Frequency Spectrum is a national patrimony and should not be a subject of anyone’s commercial transaction. He knew that the government assigned the frequency bands with the understanding that the awardees will establish the infrastructure to offer the services needed by the public .
CURE didn’t do this but instead Ongpin parlayed CURE with its valuable 3G frequency grant by selling the company to Smart /PLDT of course at a very handsome price .
The National Telecommunications Commission, at that time did not object, the president was informed.
Duterte only had to ask a few questions to get answers he needed to get back at PLDT’s demand for a P3-billion refund. He got answers to his questions so vital he knew he is standing on solid ground to counter with “I will have BIR look into your books”.
Duterte must be smirking with a laugh when he was informed by Secretary Rio that PLDT is surrendering CURE’s frequency absolutely for free. Did I hear the President murmurring, “Never ever try me. Never ever do your shenanigans during my term. I owe you nothing”.
I did my own sleuthing about how frequencies were allocated and how this ended and landed later in the lap of the duopoly. Here’s a short story: PLDT acquired Digitel with its Mobile network that had frequency grants in the 900 MHz for 2G , 1100 MHz for 3G , 2300 mhz and 2500 for Broadband Wireless Access (BWA).
My industry sources said that NTC approved the sale of Digitel to PLDT on condition that PLDT will surrender or return to the Commission the frequency band assigned to CURE since PLDT/Smart has automatically acquired all the frequencies assigned to Digitel in 900 , 1100 , 2300 and 2500 MHz bands. Globe had objected to the automatic transfer of the frequencies to PLDT/Smart before but was overuled by NTC.
Fast forward, PLDT, in returning the allocated frequency of CURE back to NTC, threw a curve by insisting that the Government reimburse them for P3-billion alleging that they have made major Investments using the CURE frequency. This is s lot of nonsense or in the language of Duterte — a lot of bull shit!
My guess is that some telecom savvy advisers to the President must have whispered to his ears that the radio equipment used in 3G are software driven radios (SDR ) and could easily be retrofitted at a very minimal expense or re-programmed to the other 1100 mhz frquencies that PLDT/Smart had and those that it acquired from Digitel .
To have sufficient frequency bands and to level playing field versus the duopoly, the 3rd Player must likewise need a sufficient allocation in the 700 mhz or better in the 600 MHz band that the government opened to TVBroadcasters who are compelled to transition to High Definition TV (HDTV). These broadcasters will only be occupying a portion of the 600 Hz band and the rest of the band can be given to the 3rd player that will definitely leap frog to 5G.
I don’t buy that crap about the sudden benevolence of PLDT/Smart in returning CURE frequency. In the first place, that asset should have been surrendered to the government without pre-conditions. That cannot be a subject of speculation akin to real estate appreciation akin to real estate appreciation of value.