“Lousy” Philippine telcos issued December deadline for improvement

28 July 2020 | Melanie Mingas

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So called “lousy” telcos in the Philippines have been given until December to turn around their performance record to prevent the government taking “drastic steps”.

The instruction came from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday, as he spoke to the nation of 106 million people during his fifth state of the nation address.

The theme of Duterte’s Monday address was economic recovery post-Covid, covering SME support strategies, tax reductions and legislation to assist banks and other institutions in managing non-performing assets.

Duterte is known for going off topic during such speeches and his comments on the country’s telcos occurred around halfway through the near two-hour broadcast.

After talking about the country’s capacity to support online learning during Covid-19 – with a brief interlude to explain he was attempting to negotiate early access to a Covid vaccine via China – Duterte spoke about the repurposing of television frequencies to deliver online learning services.

He then said: “Let me just… allow me to segue a little bit. For the remaining two years of my term, all that is good that belongs to government, whether it be the airwaves, whether it be the lines, or whatever that is good for the people, will belong to the government and it should be government who should be given the first option to utilise them.

“I call on our [telecommunication] companies to improve their services lest we be forced to take drastic steps to address the less-than-ideal service that the public is getting from you,” he continued.

Switching between Filipino and English, he added: “Public services, you better improve…. services that the other countries are enjoying. If it's just a question of added capitalisation or the infusion of money, go and look for it….. because if you are not ready to improve… I might just as well close all of you and we revert back to the line telephone at kukunin ko 'yan, i-expropriate ko sa gobyerno.”

He continued: “We are a republic, a sovereign country, bear that in mind because the patience of the Filipino people is reaching its limit, and I will be the one to articulate the anger of the Filipino people. And you might not want what I intend to do with you.

“Kindly improve the services before December. I want to call Jesus Christ to Bethlehem. Better have that line cleared,” he continued to widespread applause among attendees.

Concluding his comments, Duterte’s final words on the topic were: “You know, you give us half deals, half-cooked transactions, lousy service. Tell us now if you cannot really improve on it because I will work by December. I have two years. The next two years will be spent improving the telecommunications of this country without you. I will find a way. I will talk to Congress and find a way how to do it.”

The Philippines’ telecoms industry is a duopoly between Philippine Long Distance Telephone (PLDT) and Globe Telecom (Globe). The two have blamed government bureaucracy for slow network upgrades.

Duterte initiated the selection of a third provider in 2017 but Dito Telecommunity saw its July 2020 technical launch delayed. However, it is still intended to cover 84% of the population with speeds of at least 55Mbps.

In February, Capacity reported that Dito planned to build its own domestic subsea network connecting the country’s islands, as well as a 10,000-15,000km fibre network, in partnership with China Telecom, which owns 40% of the new telco.