"Imagine being prevented from obtaining the Internet service of your choice."
Getting infected by COVID 19 and losing one’s livelihood are, what I think, two of the top worries of every Filipino. Managing to dodge these two, the third worst thing that can happen is having bad or even no internet services, a critical everyday necessity for coping with these new normal conditions.
This is the difficult situation of the residents of Twin Oaks Place (TOP) in Greenfield District complaining of being prevented by the property developers from availing themselves of more reliable, faster, and more affordable broadband services from alternative internet service providers.
According to recently published reports, this has prompted the Enforcement Office of the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) to file a case against the condominium developer Greenfield Development Corporation and its wholly owned Leopard Connectivity Business Solutions Inc. (Leopard) for imposing exclusive fixed-line internet to residents of Twin Oaks Place located in Greenfield District. The provider of internet services in this case is Twin Oaks Place Fiber Network (TOPFN) which is managed by Leopard Connectivity.
The PCC said in its press release, “As the investigative and prosecutorial arm of the PCC, the Enforcement Office alleged that Greenfield and Leopard abused their dominance as TOP’s property developer and fixed-line internet provider by preventing the entry of other ISPs to provide their services to residents and limiting the market to Leopard as sole ISP, in violation of the Philippine Competition Act.”
TOP residents complained that Leopard’s internet services are more expensive as they are being charged P2,699 a month for only 20 Mbps and P3,500 for only 40 Mbps. At these same rates, other ISPs have much faster speeds at 50-75 Mbps and 100-150 Mbps respectively. Residents also complain that Leopard’s internet connection is unreliable.
According to PCC Chairman Arsenio M. Balisacan, “Abuse of dominance cases are evaluated with the end view of dismantling exploitative and exclusionary practices in business and ultimately empowering consumer choice. Under the Philippine Competition Act, an entity found to have abused its dominance in the market could face a fine of up to P110 million.”
A similar situation is causing unjustifiable burden to more than two thousand households in the communities of Cerritos Heights and Lessandra Heights in Bacoor City that have been cornered by Planet Cable, another “exclusive” ISP for 10 years.
Responding to a petition of the two communities, Bacoor City Mayor Lani Mercado-Revilla Government of Bacoor City concurred with the resident’s complaint that Planet Cable’s internet services “has been insufficient to cater the internet needs for residential, business or education purposes of majority of the homeowners.”
According to the petition from the residents of Cerritos Heights, they have been forced “to bear Planet Cable’s poor service and equally inefficient customer support” and appealed for the intervention of the local government, the National Telecommunications Commission, the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board, the Philippine Competition Commission, and private telecommunications providers Globe Telecom, PLDT, Converge, and others to help facilitate the installation of fiber internet and landline facilities in their area.
The Cerritos Heights petition lamented that, “Based from our horrible experience with Planet Cable before and during the Enhanced Community Quarantine, it is evident that it will not be able to serve our needs of the new normal.”
“We wish to assert our right to enjoy the benefits of competition, especially in getting the best possible internet provider,” the Cerritos petition said.
These two cases will test the quasi-judicial powers of the PCC to enforce The Philippine Competition Act (PCA) or R.A. 10667 enacted to protect the well-being of consumers and preserve the efficiency of competition in the marketplace.
Actually, these are just two hard examples of many more cases wherein telcos are being blocked from providing competitive broadband services because of some “exclusivity” policy enforced in privately managed communities. I have personally seen the same situation in the more exclusive, gated communities and condominiums where homeowners have no choice but to use a preferred landline or broadband provider. This is another unnecessary barrier to the last mile deployment of the digital infrastructure being aggressively built by the private telecommunications companies.
Healthy competition has always worked for consumers as it drives innovation for better products and services at the best value for money. Competition motivates market players to continuously improve and expand access to their target customers by producing superior, or at least competitive products at the right price point of their buyers.
The consumer’s freedom to choose according to his own interest forces players in a market economy to work more efficiently to satisfy and increase demand for their output. This constant push to expand customer base and become the leading brand likewise drives more investments thereby fueling economic growth. The government should not allow these illegal exclusivity policies to deprive consumers of the best broadband services.