The lack of public interest in the Mobile Number Portability Act makes the new law akin to a prescription for the wrong ailment and should tell government to focus on more fundamental improvements in the country’s digital infrastructure and broadband services, an independent consumer advocacy group said.
“People may not be interested in switching telecom providers because they now have many other options to communicate,” said Professor Louie Montemar, convenor of Bantay Konsyumer, Kalsada, Kuryente (BK3).
“The government should instead focus on improving the country’s digital infrastructure so that the quality of internet connection will be seamless and uniform across the country.”
Just over 1,000 out of more than 100 million subscribers—or 0.001% of the total—have ported to their new networks during the first month of the MNP, according to Melanie Manuel, head of Telecommunications Connectivity, Inc., a joint-venture company composed of all telcos created for the purpose of operationalizing the law.
Montemar said the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the public’s need for the internet to perform their day-to-day transactions, from remote working or studying, to online banking and shopping, to health consultations, to connecting with friends and family.
“Internet connection has become a right, given the volume of essential activities we now do online. Meanwhile, if we cannot call or text somebody using our mobile numbers, we can always send them an email or message them on social media.”
What is needed, thus, is for government to streamline bureaucratic processes so that gaps can be addressed, and digital infrastructure investments and projects can proceed as planned.
The Mobile Number Portability Law has been touted as a milestone of the National Telecommunications Commission for enabling dissatisfied telecom customers to switch service providers while retaining their numbers, which they may have been using for a long time.
NTC may have expected enthusiasm from the public as soon as the law became effective on September 30, but the first month was instead marred with lack of interest among subscribers and friction among the telecom players that had some quarters calling for a probe.
“Despite the hype, MNP does not appear to be the game changer that it purported to be,” Montemar said. “MNP seems like a nice option to have but one thousand out of over 100 million mobile subscribers shows only insignificant market acceptance.”
If there is anything to be investigated, he added, it should be the use of hacking and jamming technology being used to air the text propaganda of certain candidates for the May 2022 elections.
Montemar said the late adoption of MNP in the Philippines is responsible for the public’s anemic interest in it.
“Long before this law was passed, many Filipinos have had dual SIMs for several reasons,” he said. “They want a backup for when their main provider encounters problems. They want to avoid extra charges for calling a number from another network.”
“They want to avail themselves of promotions that are not offered by one network. For those who travel outside Metro Manila, one network may have a stronger signal than the other. Others use a spare SIM for personal or business communications they want to keep secret.”
Most subscribers in the Philippines also use prepaid numbers, which have been very easy to acquire for those who have already switched providers in the past.
“Instead of focusing on this new law that has come too late to offer substantial relief to mobile subscribers, the government must accelerate the country’s digital transformation and enable the people to be digitally ready,” said Montemar.
“The Philippines cannot survive, much less compete, in the post-pandemic world without respectable internet connectivity. Our leaders should be sharp enough to channel the government’s valuable time, energy and resources.”