Yesterday afternoon, February 19, I attended a public forum with the House of Representative’s Committee on ICT on Internet broadband and bandwidth. MINT College graciously provided the venue. The forum was attended by some bloggers, members of Computer Professionals Union (CPU), I-Café Pilipinas, Philippine Flash Actionscripters (Phlashers), notable people like Dr. William Torres “Father of Philippine Internet” and Tunde Fafungwa of Kitskoo.
The committee is composed of Hon. Tiñga as chairman, Hon. Palatino and Hon. Tinio. Hon. Bondoc joined later, sharing her experience of getting billed about P100,000 because of data usage incurred by her iPhone. NTC Commissioner Cordoba was present, and so did some Globe representatives who did not participate.
Most of the issues are being worked on by NTC and there are some solutions mentioned by the Committee on ICT. I’m not much of a note-taker but I tried my best. Following are what I’ve gathered from the forum.
- SLA for Consumers – A service level agreement similar to business and corporate accounts should be made available. In response to complains about ISPs deceiving “Up to XXkbps” service with no minimum speed, the agreement to the consumer will provide a Committed Information Rate (CIR) or a minimum speed of something like 80%. Bandwidth capping should also fall here although not entirely discussed in the forum. Rebates were also raised and the committee and NTC said that it’s being looked at and will also be brought up to DTI.
- Overbilling – NTC has a draft on mobile data charges to protect postpaid and, to be added, prepaid subscribers. Talks with manufacturers and distributors to disable mobile data before shipping smartphones are ongoing. NTC will also start information campaigns about mobile data and how to disable it.
- Overbooking – ISPs are accused that networks are beyond capacity. NTC is conducting an “Infrastructure Audit” which should conclude in a month or two.
- Prevent exclusivity – to encourage a healthy competition among providers, exclusive areas from buildings to cities (e.g. Fort Bonifacio) should bare no exclusivity with one or more ISPs. In a related note with competition, there is an upcoming FTTH player and the NTC has done all it can to reduce the paperwork to get the new provider up and running.
- Creation of another and a true Internet Exchange – Mr. Fafungwa has a paper on keeping domestic traffic domestic (read it here) and a representative of CPU suggested the creation of another Internet Exchange maintained by the government. The Philippines currently has two Internet Exchanges, BayanTel and PLDT.
- Provision of utility corridors – Mr. Fafungwa mentioned utility corridors that should house utility cables and pipes such as power, water, data and voice cables. I stood up to raise its importance as I have blogged or tweeted about it several times before. Their advantages such as less risk from typhoons and better aesthetics against overhead cables have several advantages which should justify their high cost. Hon. Tiñga raised the concern of control over these utility corridors.
- Number portability and lock-in periods – To add to healthy competition, number portability similar to FCC’s rules should be made available and lock-in contracts be abolished. Hon. Bondoc aired her inconveniences on these issues and hesitation to switch providers.
- Testing method – a couple of slides in the opening mentioned the Philippines’ rank in an average broadband speed index. I believe this was not discussed enough as there must be a standardized method of testing the broadband speed to enable consumers to prove that their connection is not delivering.
- Moving of broadband services from VAS – a blogger brought up that broadband services should not be considered a value-added service. There must have been an argument by a telco that data services is considered VAS and does not fall into regulation.
As I mentioned to Hon. Palatino, I prepared my concerns and suggestions the night before but as I listened through the resolutions, I felt that work is already being done and felt some inner peace. I’m trying to keep an open mind, viewing it both from the eyes of consumers and ISPs. Running undersea cables are not cheap and a risky investment, considering our geographic location. Network infrastructure is not built overnight but cheating consumers is not a valid solution.
At Roofcamp, I was told that telcos will simply go around these solutions. I received the same presumption when I posted the event page on Facebook. I’d like to keep a positive outlook and rather do something about it than complaining on social networks. Though work is not yet over, I would like to give the ICT Committee and NTC a pat on the back.
Attendees will be notified of a public online venue where the people can participate in writing these laws. As stated by the ICT Committee, the next hearing might be online. NTC will also have a public hearing on March 18, 2011 (details to follow as soon as NTC’s website starts working again).
Update: According to Rom Feria, DOST-ASTI has an Internet Exchange.
 I think this happens mostly to iPhone users. Yay for Android and not so good for telcos!