Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mobile Number Portability Is Here.. Sorta

Hold on to your seats. Mobile Number Portability is more than a boring string of words.

Senator Villar filed a bill last July 2011 seeking to implement a Mobile Number Portability system in the country. A house version has also been filed by Rep. Anna York Bondoc (4th Disctrict, Pampanga). Note that similar bills have already been filed several years ago but not one was successfully passed into law. We can safely say that, despite its passing in the committee level sometime last week, the Telcos are winning the bargain.

Or can we really? The solons who principally sponsor the bills believe that MNP is a necessary element in the development of mobile communications as can be seen in its implementation by other countries in Africa, Australia, most of Europe (ie. Britain) and even in Asia (e.g. India). But while this can be seen as 100% pro-consumer law, they say that a cost-benefit analysis of the system would argue otherwise. It just might be that we are on the same side as the telcos.

Mobile Number Portability (MNP), in a gist, is a system wherein the subscribers are provided the option to retain their number even if they switch to another service provider. The primary objective of this proposal is to sustain competition among service providers and ultimately promote improvement of the quality of mobile telephone service in the country. A more concrete scenario that the bills envision is for the Telcos to be more focused on retaining subscribers in the long haul and thus improving their services instead of the usual sporadic number crunching battle for short-term switchers.

In the past years, as the number of mobile users in the country rose to 80 million (almost the entire Filipino population!), we’ve seen how the Big 3 telecommunication companies battled it out in pirating consumers from each other by providing amazing/surreal promos in the beginning but eventually phasing out these promos once they’ve lured enough numbers in (Yes, G. I’m talking about your unlimited/sulitxt promos which are superficial and misleading at most). Most of the time, the unwary consumers are left with a useless service they no longer want to avail stuck to a cellphone number they want to keep.

But while the mobile phone user’s attachment to a certain number may make this law seem all pro-consumer and harmless fun, the costs of setting up a system and keeping it up are quite substantial. Is MNP worth it?

Under the bill, the subscriber is mandated to register his name and mobile telephone number with the originating service provider provided that the subscriber opting to switch to another mobile service provider has no existing liability or outstanding obligations with the originating service provider. But what the bill does not elucidate at this point is how the porting system will work. Who shall burden the costs of the switching?

Like cloud computing, MNP is becoming the wave of the future (or of the present – if you are to agree with Congress that we are lagging behind with this). But just because we see progressive nations using it does not mean we are equally as prepared for it. A technology consultancy firm has this to say: “National regulatory authorities and operators should be aware that the costs are likely to outweigh the benefits in countries with small markets and in countries at an early stages of mobile market development, and should therefore delay implementation or seek low cost solutions”. At the same time, however, MNP may suffer the same fate as the National Broadband Project if Congress delays it further. I say, tackle the bill now but whoever proposes should propose further. Don’t leave it to the NTC (it already busy with the pldt-digitel merger – and history has it that it can’t do much against Telcos). I think, and I might be wrong on this for I haven’t seen the bills yet for they are not for public viewing, it is only by providing a clear framework on how the MNP will be implemented will this bill make sense.

More scholarly MNP cost-benefit analysis right here:

Entry # 10


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