PLDT not seeking reimbursement for CURE frequencies, Palace upbeat on outlook for 3rd telco

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The PLDT logo is displayed at its main building in Makati City. INTERAKSYON FILE PHOTO

MANILA – Philippine Long Distance and Telephone Company (PLDT) will no longer seek reimbursement – as it was promised in an earlier agreement with government – for its costs in 2011 and will return the CURE frequencies, paving the way for the entry of a third telco in the country.

Malacañang expressed appreciation on Wednesday for PLDT’s move after this was confirmed by Secretary Eliseo Rio of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).

According to presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, President Rodrigo Duterte has been informed of PLDT’s decision, and was conveying his thanks for it.

The President, added Roque, is keenly aware of the cruciality of getting a third telco player in order to spur competition and better service in a market dominated by the duopoly of PLDT-Smart and the Ayala-led Globe Communications.

Roque explained that Duterte had been irritated by the notion of having government pay a private business for the return of a frequency, when such was given for free.
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PLDT chair and CEO Manuel V. Pangilinan said they had advised Malacañang of their decision not to seek payment for returning the 3G frequency previously owned by the company CURE.

In 2011 PLDT-Smart agreed to return the frequencies after their buy-in into Sun Cellular. The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) then agreed to reimburse PLDT for what it spent in buying CURE, with funds to be raised in an auction of the frequencies.

PLDT-Smart will now formally notify NTC in writing about its intention not to invoke the reimbursement clause.

“There were already conversations with [Secretary] Rio last night. It was friendly. We are not going to insist anymore, we told him no reimbursement anymore, we are not going to insist. I assured him we are not taking any steps to make the entry of the third telco difficult because we are not doing anything,” Pangilinan said in a phone interview.

“i give my word to Malacañang that this is what we are gonna do, so next week we will issue a letter to the NTC confirming all of this,” he added.

An ICT advocate, Pierre Tito Galla, said it was but right to close this issue in order to pave the way for allowing entry of a new telco.

“Spectrum is patrimony. It’s not chattel; it’s not part of goods that can be traded by one corporation to another, so it’s just right and just that no money should be paid to PLDT from government for the recovery of these CURE frequencies. More importantly, we need spectrum management,” said Galla, co-founder of democracy.net.ph.

He said some legislators are looking into a possible measure for a rational spectrum management, “and if the President makes this into a priority bill . . . then the likelihood for success for his push for a third player will become even much better,” Galla added.

The DICT is now moving to lay down the groundwork for the bidding of frequencies that a third telco player can use, amid a move by Duterte on Tuesday to prod regulators to fast-track the process, scuttling Rio’s request for a May 2018 deadline for the process. Duterte instead wants the matter wrapped up in March.