By Beting Laygo Dolor, Contributing Editor
Filipino consumers were mildly surprised last week when a company known as NOW Telecom claimed to be “the Philippines’ fourth telco.”
Such a claim was laughed off by former Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Undersec. Eliseo Rio, who said that was merely aimed at boosting the share prices of its mother company, which is listed in the Philippines Stock Exchange.
Rio said he had never heard of any pronouncement from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) as well as the DICT that NOW Telecom – wholly owned by NOW Corp. – the country’s fourth telco.
Rio said the company had been making that claim, “since around two years ago.”
NOW’s announcement came after the NTC granted the company a provisional authority to operate, subject to an infusion of PHP1.9 billion (about US$38 million) in capital.
The NTC approval also requires NOW Telecom to speed up the installation of broadband data services in the country’s suburban and rural areas.
The confusion as to whether or not NOW qualifies as the country’s fourth telco can be traced to comments from NTC Deputy Commissioner Edgardo Cabarios, who told local media that NOW was not the fourth telco.
However, he had previously been quoted that there are “four entities” authorized to operate mobile networks. NOW apparently took this to mean that they are number four in the list.
Globe, Smart, and Dito are the three telcos, with Dito yet to commence operations.
In fact, after the first three, there are at least three other companies that can loosely claim to be full blown telcos. These are NOW Telecom, InfiniVAN, and Converge.
But their capitalization is nowhere near the official three telcos’. There are also much smaller companies operating in the provinces which are in the same boat as NOW.
Last week, NOW told the PSE in its disclosure that NOW Telecom had secured an extension of its provisional authority to install, operate and maintain a nationwide mobile telecommunications system, thereby making NOW the country’s fourth telco.
When news of the extension of the provisional authority was announced, the shares of NOW rose by nearly 50 percent.
As far back as two years ago, the company had received a 25-year extension of its legislative franchise, allowing NOW to operate in the market until 2043.
The company had actually expressed an interest in bidding for the country’s third telco slot, which ultimately went to Dito Telecommunity. But NOW backed out of the race due to inadequate frequencies allotted to the winning bidder, saying these would be insufficient in operating on a nationwide scale.
NOW Telecom currently delivers broadband internet access to Metro Manila subscribers only, with average speeds of 3.40 gigabits per second. The company said that it plans to expand operations in the residential market.
Like Globe and Smart, NOW will offer 5G broadband service.
It should be noted that Dito will only be offering 4G service when it launches next year, as it is cheaper than 5G.
In its statement to the PSE, NOW said “there is nothing inconsistent” with its claim to be the country’s fourth telco, despite regulators saying there is no such thing.
Its statement said, “NOW Corporation stands by its statement about its affiliate NOW Telecom Company, Inc. being the 4th telecommunications player.”
Also last week, NOW stated that the NTC had granted a “long delayed” extension of its provisional authority on September 14, allowing the company to install, operate, and maintain a nationwide mobile telecoms system.
NOW Telecom did not announce a date when it would start nationwide operations.