House approves bill expanding powers of the NTC

 This bill aims to provide NTC with more 'teeth' to impose telco rules

The House of Representatives unanimously approved House Bill 6558 which seeks to expand and strengthen the powers of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to improve telecommunications services in the country.

To fulfill this, the bill, which is principally authored by Rep. Victor Yap (2nd District, Tarlac), chairman of the committee on information and communications technology, provides for the amendment of Republic Act No. 7925, otherwise known as the Public Telecommunications Policy Act of the Philippines.”

It seeks the amendment of Section 3 of RA 7925 titled “Definitions and Interpretations” by providing for the meaning of Significant Market Power, which is “The ability of a public telecommunications entity to effect price, supply or innovation in the telecommunications industry or any part thereof, as a result of either its control over essential facilities or the use of its position in any market in the telecommunications industry or any market related thereto.”

The NTC is mandated to adopt standardized definitions of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the World Wide Web Consortium (WWWC), and the Internet Corporation For Assigned Numbers and Names (ICANN), and other international and transnational agencies governing the development, use, and standardization of the internet, and information and communications technology, subject to refinements of these international standards as may be prescribed by regional telecommunication bodies, taking into consideration the special circumstances applicable only to the region.

The bill also seeks the amendment of Section 5 of RA 7925 titled “Responsibilities of the NTC” by adding a sub-section H which is about imposing penalties on erring public telecommunication entities.

The sub-section provides that in the exercise of its regulatory powers, the NTC shall impose fines against public telecommunication entities within the scope of its regulation, which are found to have violated, violating, or those which have failed or are failing to comply with the terms and conditions of the Act, any certificate, or any order, decision or regulation of the NTC.

The erring public telecommunication entity shall be subject to a fine amounting to the actual loss or overcharging as determined by the NTC for every day during which such default or violation continues, or if it is not feasible to quantify the offense, to a fine amounting to P1 million for every day during which such default or violation continues until the amount is fully paid.

If the telecommunication entity has a gross annual income not exceeding P10 million, the penalty that may be imposed shall be equivalent to one percent to two percent of its gross annual income. The NTC is hereby authorized and empowered to impose such fine, after due notice and hearing. The erring telecommunication entity is also mandated to refund to consumers the charges it erroneously imposed on its subscribers.

The NTC is further authorized to impose a fine of P1 million for every day that a violation of Section 18 (Access Charge/Revenue Sharing) and Section 19 (Uniform System of Accounts) hereof is committed, and until such time that the erring telecommunication entity fully complies with the terms and conditions of the Act, any certificate, or any order, decision or regulation of the NTC.

If the entity has a gross annual income not exceeding P10 million, the penalty that may imposed shall be equivalent to one percent to two percent of its gross annual income.

The NTC shall require public telecommunication entities with significant market power as determined by the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) to provide timely access to its network, facilities or equipment to access seekers on a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms and conditions.

The bill also amends Section 10 of RA 7925 titled “International Carrier” so that only entities which can demonstrably show technical and financial capability to install and operate an international gateway facility shall be allowed to operate as an international carrier.

The bill also amends Section 12 of RA 7925 titled “Mobile Radio Services” so that more than one duly enfranchised provider of mobile radio services, distinct and separate from the local exchange carrier, may be allowed to operate. However, such entities shall secure prior authority from the NTC and in addition, comply with the norms on radio frequency spectrum utilization.

It also amends Section 15 of RA 7925 titled “Use of Available or Unassigned Spectrum” which provides that the radio frequency spectrum allocation and assignment shall be subject to an annual review. The use thereof shall be subject to reasonable spectrum user fees.

Within one year from the effectivity of the Act, the Department of Information and Communications (DICT), in consultation with the NTC and the PCC, shall issue the guiding principles and policy direction for the use of spectrum.

The bill also amends Section 18 of RA 7925 to insert a new Section 18-A titled “Transparency”, which provides that all interconnecting carriers shall provide to the NTC all terms and conditions, including rates of access charge/revenue sharing arrangements such as carriers have entered into.

All telecommunications service providers shall open their books of account to the NTC, which is empowered to demand copies thereof.