PLDT formally gives Cure's 3G frequency for free

MANILA, Philippines – PLDT Incorporated formally gave up its surrendered 3G frequency at no cost to the government, paving the way for it to be allocated to a 3rd major telecommunications firm.

PLDT chairman and chief executive officer Manuel Pangilinan on March 5 wrote a letter to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), fully complying with its intention to divest 10 megahertz (MHz) of the 3G radio frequency that was previously assigned to Connectivity Unlimited Resource Enterprises (Cure).

"This frequency is now available to a new major telco player," Eliseo Rio Jr, officer-in-charge and undersecretary at the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), said over the weekend.

President Rodrigo Duterte had previously threatened to send tax auditors to telecommunications companies demanding payment for returning radio frequencies to the government.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque had also said that the government "won't pay" for the frequencies it gave out for free.

PLDT's decision to waive any monetary compensation comes despite a provision in a 2011 agreement between the NTC and the telco giant, which gives PLDT the right to recover any and all costs of investment associated with Cure frequencies. (READ: Duterte order on Cure frequencies for 3rd telco contradicts PLDT-NTC deal)

Back in 2006, the government had allocated 3G frequency to Cure, which was initially owned by businessman and former trade minister Roberto Ongpin.

Cure was granted a 25-year congressional franchise in 2001, but it only became active when the NTC awarded it one of the 4 3G licenses in 2006. The other licenses were given to Globe Telecom Incorporated, Sun Cellular, and PLDT's wireless unit Smart Communications Incorporated.

In 2011, PLDT was instructed to turn over Cure's congressional franchise and frequencies to the NTC, as part of the conditions imposed when the regulator approved PLDT's merger with Digitel Telecommunications Philippines Incorporated.

Part of the 2011 agreement was that the NTC would bid out the surrendered frequencies, so PLDT would be given monetary compensation to recoup its Cure investments.

Next: spectrum management

With the surrendered 3G frequency, Roque had said the government would "facilitate the setting up of the new major player that can effectively compete in the market."

The Cure frequencies will form part of the bundled spectrum which the DICT will award to a new major telco player by June.

The DICT and the NTC had expressed interest in coming up with a policy that would allow the two offices to pursue a radio frequency spectrum refarming. (READ: Philippines to 'add sweeteners' in guidelines for 3rd telco auction)

Spectrum refarming is the process of redeploying spectrum from available users and reallocating it to others.

NTC Deputy Commissioner Edgardo Cabarios had said his office would need the approval of the Office of the President before pushing through with the refarming policy.

As for the auction for the 3rd telco player, the DICT had said the final version of the terms of reference is targeted to be published on April 9, with the bidding tentatively set for May 24.

The DICT will hold its 3rd consultation with stakeholders on the entry of a new major telco player on Wednesday, March 14.

Heeding the call of frustrated consumers, Duterte had strictly ordered the DICT to ensure that a new major telco player would be up and running soon. – Rappler.com