Internet service providers (ISPs) are not giving up on voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP). Despite the insistence by telecommunications companies that VoIP services should be considered as normal voice calls and thus, could be offered only by public telephone exchange (PTE) providers, the majority of local ISPs are still confident they can defend their claim to this technology.
VoIP, a process where voice data is sent in digital form through discrete packets using Internet Protocol rather than the traditional circuit protocols of public switched telephone networks (PSTNs), allows users to make significantly cheaper long distance calls by enabling them to avoid the usual toll charges.
Although VoIP will clearly benefit the public — and provide the ICT industry with another promising revenue stream — the legal question about whether it is a telecommunications or Internet service still has to be decided.
“VoIP should be considered as a value-added service for Internet users and not a PTE service since the nature of VoIP is comparable to those of all other data traveling through the Internet,” said Jojie Yap, president of the Philippine Internet Service Organization (PISO) and of ISP Pacific Internet.
Yap insisted that VoIP is a free service worldwide and should be left unregulated just like the majority of other Internet services.
Regulating VoIP in the Philippines will discourage many ISPs from becoming innovative in delivering their services and a lot of users will miss out on its benefits, she cautioned.
However, the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT), the country’s largest communications provider, is holding firm to its stand that VoIP is no different from the services PTEs are currently offering and must not be used by ISPs.
Ariel Roda, PLDT senior vice president for business development, pointed out that the demand for VoIP services is still quite low since Filipinos still prefer sending text messages rather than making voice calls (either through mobile or landline phones), because of their flexibility and cheaper cost.
On the other hand, several private corporations fear that major telecommunications providers are planning to monopolize the offering of VoIP services and are, therefore, contending that VoIP should not be classified together with traditional voice call services.
In its search for a happy middle-ground for everyone, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) continues to look into possibilities that will allow VoIP to work in the Philippines while enabling PTEs and ISPs to arrive at a fair agreement. The adaptation of several U.S. guideline models in regulating VoIP is also being considered by the NTC.
Although Edgardo Cabarios, NTC director for common carrier services, had previously issued statements indicating that he was inclined to authorize PTEs to be the sole providers of VoIP services, newly appointed NTC Commissioner Ronald Solis has guaranteed that the commission will not close its doors to anyone, particularly the ISPs.
“The initial draft we released disallowing non-PTEs from providing VoIP services is not a firm decision but a means to trigger comments and ideas from the industry,” explained Solis. “For now, NTC continues to follow existing rules from the Republic Act No. 7925.”
Signed in 1995, RA No. 7925 is the law governing the development of Philippine telecommunications and the delivery of public telecommunications services.
Already possessing 12 formal position papers from various organizations, NTC expects to conduct several public hearings on VoIP and come out with the official guidelines before the May elections.