Press Release
March 13, 2017

Senate renews franchises for telecom, tv network

The Senate approved today on third and final reading two bills which sought to renew for another 25 years the franchises of Smart Communications Inc. and the Republic Broadcasting System Inc., currently known as Global Media Arts (GMA) Network, Inc.

House Bill No. (HBN) 4637, approved with 15 affirmative votes, two negative vote by Senators Risa Hontiveros and Ping Lacson and no abstention would grant Smart a franchise to "establish, install, maintain, lease and operate integrated telecommunications/computer/electronic services, and stations throughout the country for public, domestic and international telecommunications."

Likewise, House Bill No. 4631, approved with 17 affirmative votes, no negative vote and zero abstention would grant GMA a franchise to "construct, install, establish, operate, and maintain radio and television broadcasting stations nationwide, including digital television systems through microwave, satellite or any new technologies in television and radio systems."

The bills were sponsored by Senator Grace Poe, chairperson of the Committee on Public Services. Amendments to Smart's franchise

Poe said that apart from extending Smart's franchise, HBN 4637 introduced important amendments that would better protect the interest of telecom users.

"It is expedient for the legislature to roll over Smart's franchise by simply extending it. But we know that obsolescence does not only plague technology but regulatory frameworks as well," Poe said in her sponsorship speech.

The first amendment is the deletion of the term "co-use" in the application of the franchise so that "this seemingly innocuous word cannot be invoked in employing anti-competition practices."

The bill also compels Smart to install facilities and bring under its coverage areas not yet served, specifically calamity-prone ones, where the presence of telecommunication services can help in times of disaster.

"We are requiring it to upgrade and program its entire infrastructure to be on standby to send out free mobile disaster alerts as mandated by Republic Act No. 10639," she said.

The bill also retained the requirement for congressional consent "on the sale, lease, transfer, usufruct or assignment of the franchise.

Free PSAs, Closed captioning

Meanwhile, Poe said that aside from extending the GMA's franchise, HBN 4631 requires the network to provide free public service time to the government, through the broadcasting stations or facilities, to relay important public announcements and warnings as needed or required by law.

The network would also provide sound and balanced programming, promote public participation, assist in the functions of public information and education as well as promote audience sensibility and empowerment through closed captioning, the proposed measure said.

According to RA 10905 or the Closed Caption Law, "closed captioning" is the method of "subtitling television programs by coding statements as vertical data signal that are decoded at the receiver and superimposed at the bottom of the television screen."

The United States Federal Communications Commission defined closed captioning as a method of displaying "the audio portion of a television program as text on the TV screen, providing a critical link to news, entertainment and information for individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing."

Poe noted that the GMA Network has continued with and has proportionately increased its economic, cultural and social contributions to the nation, and that it "is consistently one of the nation's top corporate taxpayers."

"GMA Network is now global as it is viewed by Filipinos all over the world through its international channels. In the digital space, GMA's portal is one of the most visited Filipino websites," Poe.

"GMA has received major awards here and abroad. The network is considered a caretaker of core Filipino values," she added.

According to Poe, GMA has 47 Ultra High Frequency (UHF) and 41 Very High Frequency (VHF) TV stations nationwide as well as AM and FM stations led by DZBB and DWLS.

She said GMA also aimed to improve the picture and audio quality of its programs. (Jardine Chua)

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