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By Daxim Lucas
PDI

Bowing to pressure from lawmakers, telecommunications regulators are set to compel mobile phone firms to triple the shelf life of prepaid credits amid persistent complaints of “vanishing load” from the public.

The rules, expected to be approved by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) Friday, will also require telecommunications companies (telcos) to maintain a record of phone call details for prepaid users and make these available to them for free, upon request.

Industry watchers expect the new policy to have slightly adverse financial effects on the service providers which rely on the rapid turnover of their prepaid load business for a steady cash flow.

The NTC’s new policy came after the regulator and telecommunications firms endured a storm of criticism at the hands of senators and consumer rights advocates in recent weeks, caused by Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile’s complaints of “vanishing load” in his prepaid account.

Class suit

A nonprofit group called COUP (Cellphone Owners and Users of the Philippines) has filed a class suit in the NTC against network operators with “anomalous” charging practices that lead to so-called “vanishing load.”

The Senate committee on trade and industry, chaired by Sen. Manuel A. Roxas II, spearheaded the probe of the consumer complaints, prompting the regulator to prepare a set of other rules that will clamp down on the activities of third-party “value-added-service” firms that send unsolicited text messages to mobile phones.

Under the new NTC rules, a prepaid load of P10 or less will have a three-day validity period, compared with the present policy of both Smart Communications and Globe Telecom of having credits in this bracket expire after only 24 hours.

At the highest end of the range, credits of P600 to P1,000 will have a validity of 180 days from the time they are loaded into a prepaid user’s account.

This represents a 200-percent increase in load shelf life from the present policy of Smart and Globe to have a maximum validity of only 60 days.

All load brackets

All load brackets in between these amounts will also experience increased shelf life, depending on the size of the credits.

“The expiration or validity of prepaid loads shall correspond to the amount of loads purchased,” said the NTC draft circular. “The higher the prepaid loads, the longer is the expiration or validity period.”

Under the new scheme, credits of P10 to P20 will be valid for 7 days; over P20 to P30 for 10 days; over P30 to P40 for 14 days; over P40 to P50 for 17 days; over P50 to P60 for 20 days; over P60 to P70 for 24 days; over P70 to P80 for 21 days; over P80 to P100 for 30 days; over P100 to P150 for 45 days; over P150 to P200 for 60 days; over P200 to P300 for 90 days; and over P300 to P600 for 150 days.

“The validity period starts upon receipt of confirmation of the prepaid loads purchased,” said the draft circular. “Call data records shall be made available to the prepaid users upon request free of charge.”

It also mandates that access to balance inquiry service through text messages shall be at no cost to the consumer.

“Violation of any of the provisions of this circular shall be a ground for the imposition of fines in accordance with law,” it stated.

Representatives of mobile phone firms have yet to reply to requests for comment on the new policy as of press time.

In filing the class suit, COUP asked the NTC to order telcos to stop collecting “illegal charges” for unsolicited messages and the “anomalous” push messages, spam, interrupted or dropped calls, missed calls, failed messages and other related consumer complaints.

COUP also wants the NTC to compel telcos to open their financial books to scrutiny and to provide a mechanism for reimbursing complainants for “illegal charges.”

At the same time, COUP asked the NTC to impose penalties and sanctions on erring operators.

Rodrigo C. Domingo Jr., one of the founders of COUP, said the group would file a separate case in the Quezon City RTC against the companies with major brands such as Smart, Globe, and Sun Cellular.

“Maybe within the next two weeks we will file a case at the RTC for them to refund the vanishing load of consumers,” Domingo said.

COUP is currently composed of lawyers, according to Domingo, but it is inviting consumers to become its members.

Membership is free and may be facilitated via e-mail. More information about COUP is available at its website http://coup.ph.

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