Olongapo Telecom & Information Technology

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Roxas gives NTC a pat on the back for new VoIP draft rule

MANUEL Roxas Jr., chairman of the bicameral Congressional Oversight Committee on the Electronic Commerce Law, has given officials of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) a pat on the back for their draft rule declaring voice over Internet Protocol a value-added service.

VoIP routes phone calls through the Internet instead of through traditional public switched telephone networks. Its lower cost is making it an increasingly popular alternative to traditional voice calls.

Roxas, who was former trade secretary, said NTC's draft rules would pave the way for cheaper voice calls over the Internet.

"The NTC draft memorandum is most welcome. It will force the resolution of the regulatory uncertainty that has hampered the commercialization of and public access to VoIP as an inexpensive alternative to conventional telephone calls," Roxas said in a statement.

In Senate Resolution 197, the senator urged the Senate to look into this extant regulatory uncertainty that continues to impede full commercialization and development of VoIP as a much lower-priced alternative to traditional telephone calls.

"In view of VoIP's tremendous promise to provide more affordable voice calls, particularly for small enterprises and our workers overseas, it has become imperative for us to promptly review and resolve all policies hindering public access to the new system," Roxas wrote in his resolution.

He said that while there is a possibility that telephone companies can challenge the validity of the NTC order in the local courts, he was elated that the NTC has at least taken a position.

"We hope this move will eventually lead to a more definitive interpretation of the law," Roxas said.

The senator cited a Frost and Sullivan report indicating that three out of four voice calls worldwide would be eventually be made via VoIP by 2007.

With VoIP, spoken words are broken down into digitized bundles of information, transported over data network or packet switched connections, then reassembled upon reaching their destination.

The Public Telecommunications Act of 1995 does not clearly stipulate whether only telephone companies can offer VoIP.

The National Economic and Development Authority had also sought the full deregulation of VoIP to spur economic growth, investments and jobs. VoIP is expected to drive down international call rates from 40 US cents to just 10 US cents per minute.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Expect more pro-active regulatory policies--NTC officials

EXPECT more pro-consumer and pro-active regulatory policies from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC). Officials made the statement last week after the NTC recently issued a draft ruling that permits non-telecommunication companies to offer commercial voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, a decision widely seen to benefit consumers.

NTC Commissioner Ronald Solis hinted that the commission would deliver more surprises for the local industry.

"You can expect more pro-active positions from us. We want to be remembered for these [policies]," Solis said.

In a memorandum on VoIP's draft rules, the NTC said that it would no longer assume a hands-off policy on controversial issues such as the deregulation of VoIP in the Philippines.

"A hands-off policy, such as the Commission has adopted in the past, no longer serves the public interest. It is the Commission's position that regulatory clarity is now a necessary precondition if meaningful investment and innovation in, and public access to and use of VoIP is to grow," the NTC memorandum said.

While the NTC's draft rules and regulations on VoIP have yet become final, its recent move to issue an explanation for them signals changes in the NTC's policy direction, Solis said.

In the drafting of the new VoIP rules, Solis stressed that the NTC conducted broader public consultations to exhaust all opinions before making its own judgment.

"The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) gave us a directive [on November 2003] to come up with the new rules on VoIP in 90 days. But we took the pains to come up with a consultative document before we wrote our memorandum," Solis said.

The NTC official denied that Malacañang had pressured them to issue a more favorable position on VoIP.

NTC Deputy Commissioner Jorge Sarmiento however acknowledged that the new draft rules on VOIP are more pro-consumer compared to rulings issued prior to Solis' appointment to the NTC.

"This is based on the existing law [the Public Telecommunications Act] and a sound public policy after consultations with different parties," Sarmiento said.

Solis said that long before the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) publicly supported the deregulation of VoIP in the Philippines, the NTC had already conducted its own studies and public consultations.

NEDA has said that VoIP deregulation would lower Philippine telecommunication costs.

"We're aware of the telcos' sentiments on striking a balance between protecting consumers and the viability of an industry. But we're not insulated [from] what's happening outside of the Philippines," said Sarmiento.

Telecommunication firm have opposed the deregulation of VoIP--which routes voice calls through the Internet--as they fear it could affect their long distance revenues.

The firms had wanted VoIP classified as a voice service, which, under Philippine law, would limit commercial services to firms that have been granted a government franchise.

The NTC's draft rules classify VoIP as a value-added service, paving the way for Internet Service Providers to offer VoIP services in their own right.

Current NTC rules permit private companies to use VoIP for internal communication networks.

"VoIP is staring them in their faces. So we believe that the local telcos had been preparing for this. We believe that we have to [get] a grip on this new technology,” Solis said.

Solis declined to comment on whether the NTC's VoIP ruling was a harbinger for similar rulings third generation (3G) mobile communication services, but indicated that new regulations would be released soon.

NTC to pilot-test online public hearings

THE NATIONAL Telecommunications Commission (NTC) is making final preparations to conduct a trial run of online public hearings, officials said.
The e-Rulemaking Program, under development by the NTC and the Cyberspace Policy Center for Asia-Pacific CPCAP, may be launched by the end of April, they said.

The project will allow government agencies to conduct scheduled public hearings without members of the public having to be physically present.
It will permit comments and position papers on issues at hand to be submitted electronically.

Deputy Commissioner Jorge Sarmiento said in an interview that the pilot test would serve as a model for other government agencies to improve public discussions on legislative and regulatory topics.

He noted traditional public hearings take weeks to plan and implement.
CPCAP Director lawyer Claro Parlade said that the NTC's e-Rulemaking project would run on specially developed software that features working group models and public consultation message boards. From there, NTC officials can organize discussions and get immediate feedback.

Parlade added that e-Rulemaking follows a lot of ideas from the US government's Regulations.gov portal (www.regulations.gov), which is pursuing a similar initiative.

He also noted that the CPCAP has partnered with the United States Assistance for International Development, the Asia Foundation, Microsoft, and SoftTrigger for the project.