Unlike in other countries where telecommunication was developed and operated primarily by the state, in the Philippines it’s the private sector that is leading and reaping the rewards of this lucrative sector.
Not that the government would do or know better, if it had its way. But since the liberalization era in the early 1990s and the e-Commerce law in 2000, legislation and policymaking targeted at helping the sector has pretty much stagnated.
Take convergence, for example. A bill on converging telecommunications-related technologies, which allows telcos and ISPs to offer multimedia services, has been languishing in Congress for more than a decade.
Doubts of a convergence law ever happening are founded on the difficult question of its constitutionality. A Globe Telecom official once said that the Philippine Constitution, particularly the provision on 100% Filipino ownership of mass media, would need to be amended first.
But today, it seems that all the debates are moot and academic. The private telcos are already steering the way toward convergence sans a law, and with little or no involvement from the government.
Manny Pangilinan’s PLDT Group, through the PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund-owned MediaQuest Holdings, owns TV and radio stations (ABC Development Corporation/TV5, and National Broadcasting Corporation) and a satellite and digital TV company (Cignal).
It is building its investments in the country’s top newspapers (BusinessWorld, the Philippine Star, and the Philippine Daily Inquirer) and running its own online news site, Interaksyon.com.
A previous failed bid to own a major stake in GMA Network, Inc., one of the largest media companies in the Philippines, did not stop Pangilinan’s group from pursuing its investment in TV. It has instead earmarked 6 billion pesos’ worth of capital expenditure for TV5 in 2013.
Digital media convergence is happening now. And if Congress would ever pass a convergence bill into law in the next three years, the question is whether it would serve as a mere rubberstamp or disrupt what is already a huge business for telecom and mass media companies.