Shortlisting the telcos

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NO EXTENSION. Just stick to the original time frame.

That was President Duterte’s response to the request of Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) officer-in-charge Eliseo Rio Jr. to extend the deadline for the entry of a third telecommunications carrier by two months. The original time frame is to name the third telco player within the first quarter of 2018.

The Chief Executive emphatically rejected the extension during the Cabinet meeting on Feb. 5, warning detractors not to test the will of the administration. He was particularly annoyed that the government needs to buy back radio frequencies from an existing player since he believes these telco bandwidths are owned by the state.

Last year, Duterte invited China to nominate a telco that would challenge the duopoly of PLDT and Globe. The Chinese government subsequently named China Telecom as its entry.

But constitutional restrictions on public utilities will limit China Telecom to only 40% ownership of its Philippine subsidiary. Thus, it needs to partner with a local firm to be able to operate in the country.

Three companies have expressed their intent to become the country’s third major player in the telco industry: PT&T, Now Corporation, and Converge ICT. They plan to form separate consortia with foreign partners from China, Japan, South Korea, and Japan.

Converge ICT is owned by Dennis Uy of Pampanga (not to be confused with his namesake from Davao). He founded ComClark, a broadband and network solutions provider based in Central Luzon.

Now Corporation is a listed company in the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) specializing in livestream technical services and wireless cable television. Its main driver is Mel Velarde who was the former head of Sky Cable.

PT&T used to be the rival of PLDT before falling into hard times after the Asian financial crisis of 1997. It was recently acquired by the group of Salvador Zamora and Benjamin Bitanga who are eyeing the lifting of its 13-year voluntary trading suspension in the PSE.

Who will be the eventual winner in this high-stakes race? Millions of Filipinos are waiting with bated breath, hoping that the long years of experiencing dropped calls and ultra-slow internet service would finally come to an end. p: wjg

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