SMART Communications has promised to put up 2,000 additional cell sites in the country to convince senators to allow the extension of the telecommunications firm’s legislative franchise for another 25 years.
Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito in an interview after the hearing of the Senate public services committee on Senate Bill 1302, which seeks to extend Smart’s franchise, said the company made the commitment after senators raised the issue of its user-per-density ratio.
Ejercito said Smart has more than 15,000 cell sites all over the country serving 47.1 million subscribers, which means that there are 2,244 subscribers per cell site.
The senator noted that the number of existing cell sites in the country is one of the reasons why services lag, considering that Filipinos are among the heaviest users of social media in the world.
“We learned that this is where disparity lies. If Smart acts on building additional 2,000 cell sites, this will surely bring down the user-per-density ratio and eventually lead to service improvement,” said Ejercito, vice chairman of the committee.
Smart also promised to expand its wireless broadband long-term evolution or LTE coverage within two years upon approval of its franchise extension.
Ejercito, however, reminded Smart that the Senate would be monitoring compliance of its promises should Congress agree to approve its franchise extension.
“If we see that they are not providing efficient services to the public, then we will not hesitate to suspend or even revoke their franchise,” Ejercito noted.
Smart’s franchise will expire by mid-March.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd has called on the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to direct the two major telecommunications company in the country to adopt Mobile Number Portabilty (MNP).
MNP is a feature that allows mobile phone subscribers to retain their mobile phone numbers even if they switch to a different carrier.
Under the current system, the first four numbers of a mobile phone number are assigned to specific carriers, thus forcing mobile phone subscribers to change numbers when switching to a different carrier.
Pimentel noted that regulators in other countries require telecommunications companies to allow MNP “because they recognize that by removing the barriers to switching services providers, they are empowering consumers by giving them the power to choose.”
The Senate president also pointed out that giving consumers the right to retain their mobile phone numbers is a way of encouraging competition, by compelling companies to improve their services.
“We have to institute measures that will remove the hurdles to real competition so that we are not held hostage by service providers. If we are unhappy with our current provider, we should be able to bring our business elsewhere,” he added.
But even if NTC wanted to require telecommunications companies to adopt MNP, its powers would not be enough to enforce compliance, according to another senator.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said that the limited powers of the NTC and the low penalty imposed on companies render enforcement of rules difficult for the agency.
He added that NTC does not have sufficient regulatory powers to sanction erring wireless service providers, particularly with respect to data services.
MNP has been available in the United States since 2003 and it is now adopted in other countries, such as the Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and Hong Kong.
“Even our Asean neighbors Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam allow you to retain your number even if you shift carriers,” Pimentel added.