Globe, Smart urged to notify prepaid users of each load deduction

MANILA, Philippines – Telecommunications companies should notify prepaid users real-time of their load deductions.

This was the suggestion of Senate science and technology committee chairman Paolo Benigno Aquino IV to Globe Telecom and Smart Communications during the hearing on the "nakaw-load" (stolen load) scheme on Monday, March 5.

Aquino said this would provide transparency for prepaid subscribers, many of whom are left surprised with the load amounts deducted from them.

Freelancer Gigi Lapid, a prepaid user, lamented how her load was eaten up by Globe's value-added services (VAS) – services beyond the usual calls and text messages – when she did not even sign up for those.

Another consumer, overseas Filipino worker (OFW) Armie Torres, told the Senate committee that Globe deducted P24 for its Emergency SMS Service feature, when it should only have been P6.

Aquino said that to avoid surprises like these, Globe and Smart should notify subscribers of each load deduction, in the same way credit card companies do it.

"Sana may notification tayo. In that way, mas madali buhay nila. 'Di tayo nagtataka, malinaw.... At kung meron mang binawas sa 'yo, 'di ka nag-opt in, puwede kang mag-complain," Aquino said.

(We should have notifications. In that way, our lives will be easier. There would be no questions, everything would be clear.... And if there have been deductions even if you did not opt in, you can easily complain.)

"Baka puwede nating gawing best practice ito. Mga problems natin from 10 years ago baka ma-resolve with this simple system change  (Maybe we can make this a best practice. Our problems from 10 years ago could be resolved with this simple system change). Is this too much of a cost? I don't think it is too much of a cost for the telcos," he added, saying the issue was first heard by the Senate in 2009.

Froilan Castelo, general counsel of Globe, said they are open to the proposal.

"We will take serious consideration of that," Castelo told Aquino.

'Annoying' for consumers?

Smart, for its part, said it has already started doing that for VAS promos.

"Yes, we agree with it. In fact, we are already implementing that particular requirement. For example, to sign up for a VAS service in Smart today, you have to positively opt in, not just one [question]. Halimbawa nag-yes ka sa (If for example you said yes to the) first question, you ask a second question again.... It has had very good results," Smart's public affairs head Mon Isberto told reporters after the hearing.

Smart, however, has a concern regarding notifying users of every deduction, including those from calls and text messages.

The telco said it had implemented that but consumers described the scheme as "annoying."

"Before we did that pero ang daming reklamo (but there were many complaints). Bawat (Every) call, text, so tinanggal (we removed it). But we can add [that]," Eden Techico, Smart's head of customer experience, told Rappler after the hearing.

Lawyer Roy Ibay, Smart's vice president for regulatory, said that while they are open to the suggestion, it is up to the National Teleccommunications Commission (NTC) to finalize the rule.

At present, he said, the policy is for companies to "make it easier for the subscriber" to know their balance whenever and wherever they want to.

Aquino has also asked the telcos to conduct an audit of their VAS providers, saying it would not be difficult because there are only around 200 of them. Both Smart and Globe claimed they are already doing that, with Smart saying they started it "years" ago.

"It is easier to manage if you reduce the number of VAS suppliers.... We also looked for their records... and those that have been problematic, maraming reklamo (many complaints), we gradually eliminated, allowed their contracts to expire. We are only keeping those VAS content providers who really add value to customer experience," Isberto said.

Globe said it has also suspended one of its VAS providers, GotDeal. However, the tightening of Globe's measures against "nakaw-load" started just recently. It announced last month that it would use a 3-step verification process for those wanting to join promos or services.

Starting March 5, Globe has also automatically opted out all its prepaid users from VAS promos for a "system refresh" to fight "nakaw-load." Castelo said users would have to sign up again under a more secure process.

Aquino said he would set another hearing by the end of March to thresh out the issues. –

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a multimedia reporter focusing on media, technology, and disinformation.