Philippines president threatens local telcos with expropriation

Calls for e-commerce surge and keeps schools closed due to certain virus that's made news lately

Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte has threatened a pair of local telcos with expropriation if they don’t improve services.

Duterte’s threats came over two days. On Monday his annual State of the Nation address [PDF] saw him call on the nation’s telcos 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.”

The next day he popped out a presidential press release in which he named local carriers Smart Communications and Globe Telecom and gave them a December deadline to improve their services or face the possibility of expropriation – the State taking their assets for public good.

Duterte’s beef with the carriers reflects consumer anger at call quality and drop-outs, while the nation’s government is disappointed with slow infrastructure rollouts that contribute to service issues and mean coverage doesn’t expand across the country.

Smart and Globe have both responded by pointing out the extent of their network investment.

Duterte offered no metrics for improvement, leaving that to the National Telecommunications Commission.

While the president has linked expropriation to the carriers’ closure, shutting down the telcos would hardly improve the situation or advance the Philippines’ massive free WiFi hotspot rollout.

That rollout will support another policy mentioned in the speech, namely the closure of schools until the COVID-19 pandemic has passed. Duterte suggested one way to deliver e-learning is by using spectrum formerly used by broadcaster ABS-CBN, which lost its franchise earlier in 2020 and has stopped broadcasting. The denial of a franchise renewal has been criticised as muzzling a media outlet that has criticised some of Duterte’s policies.

The State of the Union Address also featured a directive compelling government agencies to adopt digital service delivery for all services. “We need to adjust to and adopt a paper-less type business and work performance,” Duterte said. “We need e-governance [to provide] our people with the services they need [from] the comfort of their homes or workplaces. It will enable our bureaucracy to better transition into in the 'new normal' and cut or minimize red tape.”

The president also pledged a new focus on security to support a shift to e-commerce.

“We must patrol the country‘s cyberspace and enforce online consumer and data protection and privacy laws. We must run after online scammers and those undermining the people‘s trust in online transactions. We must continue to protect Filipinos in the new normal and remind the world that we are responsible stewards of data. I am committed to protect both the physical and digital lives of our law-abiding countrymen.” ®

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