Pangilinan to gov’t: Protect consumers, not market rivals

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/19 June) — The Philippine government should not block the deal between Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) and rival Digital Telecommunications Philippines, Inc, (Digitel) for five key reasons beneficial to consumers, PLDT chair Manuel Pangilinan said.

“In assessing the merits of the Digitel transaction, we encourage government to adhere to the principle of protecting consumers, rather than market rivals, he said during the annual PLDT shareholders general meeting early this week in Makati City.

Last March 26, PLDT announced its plan to invest in Digitel, which he described as a “game changing” move in the country’s telecommunications industry.

PLDT’s planned acquisition of JG Summit Holdings, Inc.’s 51.55% stake in Digitel has come under scrutiny as it will reportedly give the already dominant telco some 70% of the mobile market.

Digitel is the 100% owner of Digitel Mobile Philippines, which owns the Sun Cellular brand.

Pangilinan said the investment of PLDT, which owns Smart Communications, Inc., in Digitel will have the following benefits:

·         *Sun Cellular subscribers will enjoy and experience expanded 3G and broadband coverage, as well as enhanced network capacity resulting from optimized use of both company’s networks;

·         The combined networks will result in accelerated rollout of new technologies such as 4G or Long-Term Evolution (LTE). Sun Cellular subscribers will share in the benefits of 4G/LTE earlier than planned.

·         Given the preference of certain segments of the market for “unlimited” service, PLDT can bring the benefits of Sun Cellular’s market and operational leadership in “unlimited” services to Smart’s subscriber base;

·         Digitel’s fixed line subscriber will benefit from PLDT’s nationwide digital fiber optic network and international cable and satellite facilities. In particular, Digitel’s fixed line subscribers will experience faster rollout of broadband services, and;

·         Smart, alongside Sun Cellular, will be in a position to advance and accelerate the former’s “internet for all” advocacy, and make mobile broadband widely available and more affordable to Filipinos nationwide. PLDT’s Smart is committed to providing mobile broadband services to 95% of the country’s geographic areas in three years.

Globe Telecom, Inc. earlier asked the government to intervene in PLDT’s planned purchase of Digitel, claiming the possible return of monopoly.

After the PLDT annual general meeting, where the shareholders approved the  PLDT-Digitel deal, Pangilinan said in a conference with province-based journalists that they have no plans of scrapping Sun Cellular’s popular “unlimited” services.

“We’ll keep the Sun Cellular brand as such,” Pangilinan said.

He, however, did not give a categorical answer when asked until when such arrangement could be maintained.

Pangilinan lauded Sun Cellular, noting its pioneering “unlimited” service was rewarded by consumers with a significant market share.

For his part, Ray C. Espinosa, PLDT head of regulatory affairs and policy, assured they would not “kill” Sun Cellular’s “unlimited” offerings for fear of a public backlash.

“Sun Cellular is popular and has benefited the “masa” (masses). If we stop their services, we would receive thunderous complaints from consumers,” Espinosa said.

Pangilinan said that for the PLDT-Digitel deal to become final, approvals are needed from the National Telecommunications Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for the valuation of asses, and by the Philippine Stock Exchange for the block sales of Digitel shares.

Lastly, the SEC needs to confirm that the issuance of the new PLDT shares to JG Summit and to minority shareholders of Digitel is exempt from the registration requirement of the Securities Regulation Code, he said. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)