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Portability: Keeping your mobile number (First of two parts)

Some 60 million of the country’s 100 or so million citizens own mobile phones, and about half that number of mobile phone users are smartphone owners. You could say the country called the “text and selfie capital” of the world is a place where mobile number portability (MNP) would be in effect. Yet it is not.

The Philippines is also a place where a third major telecom player is expected to enter the market after a bidding before the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) that has been criticized by parties who expressed concern that the winning consortium led by Misaltel, which also includes People’s Republic of China’s state-owned China Telecom, may open the country to digital intrusions by China.

Those concerns are plausible, especially when one looks at the Chinese government’s occupation of reefs and atolls in the Spratly islands in the West Philippine Sea and the South China that are claimed by other countries, including the Philippines.

No matter how “pure” a concept is—like mobile number potability—that purity will lose potency when human elements (particularly politics, international or local) enter the picture. So, let’s look at what MNP is all about.

The Bicameral Conference Committee is unifying Senate Bill 1636 (“Lifetime Cellphone Number Act) and House Bill 7652 (Mobile Number Portability Bill)—both measures that seek to make mobile number portability a reality in the Philippines.

DEMISTIFY 

First of all, the prefix numbers that signify which carrier provides your mobile communications and internet services is not the property of the telecommunication company you’re subscribed to—be that for your post-paid or pre-paid plans. “The prefixes,” Manila Bulletin columnist, tech blogger and internet rights advocate Tonyo Cruz said, “are owned by the Republic of the Philippines, and assigned by NTC,” which assigns these prefixes to the telcos that provide your mobile phone services.

The first thing MNP implementation in the Philippines will do is make it possible for each mobile subscriber to take their existing mobile numbers with them, numeric prefix and all, when they switch telco subscriptions, regardless of whether they are post-paid or pre-paid plan subscribers.

“What subscribers have long wanted was number portability,” Cruz said. “It is a standard and often free service in many countries. We should be able to switch from Globe to Smart, TM to TNT, without changing numbers.”

He added that “number portability will mean subscribers would be bound to complain about inter-network charges which are more expensive than intra-network. The next logical demand of subscribers would be the removal of the telcos’ bread and butter: The so-called interconnection charges.”
According to a study titled “Mobile Number Portability: Case Finland” by Timo Smura of the Helsinki University of Technology Networking Laboratory, MNP was implemented in Finland in 2003.

In this study, Smura said this MNP implementation had “a strong effect on the competition on the market.” Porting or transferring existing mobile numbers, including the prefix numbers, caused the “banning of handset subsidies and long subscription contracts.” It also created a “user-friendly and free-of-charge porting process,” as well as affected the “heavy marketing campaigns of mobile operators.”

The website telqtele.com, lists the countries with MNP implementation as: The United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Hong Kong (since 1999); Spain and Switzerland (since 2000); Australia, Norway, Sweden and Denmark (since 2001); Germany, Italy and Portugal (since 2002); Greece, Ireland and the United States (since 2003); Cyprus, Austria, Hungary, Iceland, Lithuania, Slovakia and South Korea (since 2004); Luxembourg, Estonia and Malta (since 2005); Croatia, the Czech Republic, Japan, Poland, and South Africa (since 2006); New Zealand and Pakistan (since 2007); Brazil, Bulgaria, Egypt, Macedonia, Malaysia, Mexico, Romania, and Turkey (since 2008); the Dominican Republic (since 2009); Argentina, Jordan, Peru, and Thailand (since 2010); Colombia, Georgia, Ghana, Bahrain, India, and Kenya (since 2011); Belarus and Chile (since 2012; Kuwait, Moldova, Nigeria, and Russia (since 2013); Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Honduras (since 2014); Kazakhstan, El Salvador, and Senegal (since 2015); the Maldives and Iran (since 2016) and; Tanzania (since 2017).

Cruz told the Philippines Graphic in an interview via private messaging that “interconnection charges continue to make calls expensive in the Philippines.

If number portability is implemented, mawawalan ng footing yung Globe to Globe calls, and Smart to Smart, because the people will get angry.”

Cruz said mobile number portability will force the telcos—Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT, of which Smart, TNT and Sun Cellular are subsidiaries), Globe Telecom and any new major industry player—to remove the interconnection charges now being charged for calls and short messaging service (SMS) from, say, a Globe subscriber to a Smart subscriber and vice-versa.

“The cost of retention for keeping subscribers happy will also go up,” Cruz said. “People don’t switch (mobile communication service carriers) sometimes because they don’t want to let go of their phone numbers.”

“Text still costs P1.00 from Network A to B and vice versa; meanwhile both networks could give unlitext within their respective networks for as little as P5.00/day,” Cruz pointed out.

He said the effect of mobile number portability on consumers “would be lowered costs of text and calls between networks.”

THE BEEF

It appears that lawmakers turned a matter of convenience (number portability) into something about surveillance (lifetime number).

Deocracy.NET.PH co-founder and convenor Pierre Tito Gallo told the Graphic in a private message interview that the legislation from both chambers of Congress for MNP are “pretty much technology-neutral,” adding that these measures now at the bicameral conference stage “are more of competition bill(s).”

Gallo said we’ve needed an MNP measure “for a long time.” He also said he has “no idea” why it has taken so long for the Philippines to come up with legislation that has already been passed in most of the world. “We thought it would go quickly. We even surmounted duopoply opposition, in both chambers. In most ICT (information and communications technology) reforms bills, we encounter duopoly opposition in so many forms.”

Because there are only two major players in the telecommunications sphere, PLDT and Globe, both companies have been referred to collectively as a duopoly.

Gallo noted that arguments against MNP included: “It can’t be done, kasi ‘technologically impossible/expensive,’ etc.” He also said ensuring the implementation of MNP is “a matter of willingness, not technology.”

“But, in hearings, we make effort to show legislators that no new tech needed,” Gallo said. “In fact, one method does not require any tech. Just a process.” Cruz said.  To be continued

 

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