Press Release
February 23, 2017

Transcript of Sen. Grace Poe's Opening Statement
Public hearing on Smart Communications' franchise
23 February 2017

Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat.

This is a continuation of our previous hearing, where we discussed the issues in the amended version of Smart's franchise as transmitted to us from the House of Representatives.

To reiterate, Smart seeks to renew its franchise for another 25 years. We do not intend to delay Smart from renewing their legislative franchise, especially since around 70 million subscribers rely on their services. However, as they have earned billions due to the franchise granted to them, we demand better service and expect more from what they offer.

We want to start this hearing with a presentation by the NTC and the DICT so they can give us an overview of the telecom industry in the Philippines. Aside from giving us a "lay of the land", so to speak, we have asked them to compare the telecom industry here with those in other countries and asked them to present to us the problems of the telecom industry, especially since we only have two major players in this country.

After their presentation, we shall continue our discussion on the issues that were raised in the previous hearing - the definition of the term "co-use", the taxes that are levied on both networks; the effect of Smart from not being a publicly listed company, in an apparent non-compliance with the Public Telecommunications Policy Act; and the need to revisit the penalty clause that fails to penalize Smart for failure to comply with its obligations.

I would also like to add another issue in today's hearing--which is that of customer service.

In several cases, the Supreme Court has held that "a legislative franchise is a special privilege...of public concern which cannot be exercised at will and pleasure, but should be reserved for public control and administration...under such conditions and regulations as the government may impose on them in the interest of the public."

In other countries, companies pay millions of dollars for the franchise. In this country, it is merely granted to them. The phrase "interest of the public", from what I understand means that public convenience shall remain paramount. Yet, we have heard horror stories from several of Smart subscribers, some of which were brought up already in last Monday's hearing. We checked complaints online and even conducted a social media inquiry yesterday and this is what your subscribers have to say about your service.

Maraming comments po diyan. Para malaman ng ating mga kababayan na binabasa natin ang kanilang komento...iilan lang po yan sa mga komento. Ngayon wag naman sasama ang loob niyo. I'm sure may positive experiences din ang Smart kaya lang hindi yun ang nagkocomment sa social media. Most of them complained of weak to no network signal, dropped calls after every five minutes, and slow internet connection, overcharges, and recurring billing for terminated add-on services. There are also complaints on vanishing loads and loads that are quick to expire.

Shouldn't Smart be more proactive in solving these issues? What have you done to address your subscribers' concerns? After you receive a complaint, how long does it take to process and resolve it? What about refunds for overcharges and terminated add-on services? Sa laki ng kinikita ninyo, siguro naman maibabalik niyo agad ito.

In 2015, the DTI reportedly received 55 complaints on false and deceptive advertisements or claims by Smart. What are the usual complaints against Smart? Was there a finding that Smart was ever guilty of false advertising?

We also have received complaints that not all your subscribers receive disaster alerts, as required under the Mobile Disaster Alerts Law. Are you amenable to including a provision in your franchise mandating compliance to this? Also, balita ko, maraming areas na wala talagang signal lalo na ang mga areas na typhoon-prone. We will perhaps have a separate hearing on the Mobile Disaster Alerts Law, but right now, I want to know what areas are covered by your network. Saan ba usually mahina ang signal?

To answer all these issues, we have invited not just of course the franchisee but also resource persons from the concerned government agencies and civil service organizations.

During the previous hearing, there were other agencies that were not able to send representatives. Today, we hope that they are all here. Let me acknowledge each one of you so that your presence will be entered into the records.

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