Philippines will restrict VoIP to telcos

As expected, only telecommunication companies will be allowed to offer voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services based on the draft guidelines prepared by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).

Value-added service (VAS) providers, which include Internet service providers, will not be allowed to offer VoIP services to the public. Private companies may implement VoIP but only for their own use and not as a chargeable service outside the company.

The guidelines, released late last month by the NTC, will still undergo a series of public hearings to be conducted by the government agency starting this month. The NTC has also been gathering comments from interested parties which will be used for the public hearings.

Once finalized, the guidelines are expected to finally clear the full use of VoIP technology in the country. Although a number of companies, including DHL, Davao Light and Power, Pag-IBIG Fund, and the Department of Public Works and Highways, among other firms and agencies, have been using VoIP within their own corporate networks, public VoIP services have been scarce or have remained unpublicized mainly due to the absence of government rules on their usage.

In a memorandum, NTC deputy commissioner Kathleen Heceta said the VoIP guidelines are aimed at maintaining and fostering fair competition in the telecommunications industry and “bring the benefits of efficient voice over IP technology to the general public.”

Under the draft VoIP rules, public telecommunication entities (PTEs) with the appropriate congressional franchise may offer VoIP services for a fee. The coverage of these VoIP services, however, will still be based on the franchise area given to a particular phone company. This means local exchange carriers (LEC) may offer VoIP only within their local service area, international exchange carriers (IXC) may offer the service nationwide, and international gateway facility (IGF) operators may offer international VoIP.

A LEC may still be able to offer national and international VoIP, but it must first ink a deal with the IXC and IGF. Interested phone companies no longer need to apply for a separate franchise or registration with the NTC to offer VoIP if they already have the appropriate licenses.

Under the draft guidelines, entities other than PTEs can use VoIP for their private networks but they are prohibited from offering VoIP to the public for a fee. Public calling offices (PCO) and telecentre services operators that are duly registered with the NTC can also offer the same services for a fee.

ISPs are prohibited from offering VoIP to the public.

Earlier, the NTC said ISPs could strike an agreement with telcos to be able to provide VoIP services. The draft guidelines, however, do not include any provision on the issue.

The release of the final VoIP guidelines was expected as early as last year, but the NTC delayed the issuance of a ruling on the matter. Telcos have earlier asked the government to limit VoIP services to phone companies, arguing that they have already invested billions of pesos in their existing circuit-based voice networks. Allowing VAS providers to offer the same voice services will severely affect their financial viability.

ISP groups, meanwhile, want VoIP services to be open to everyone to give consumers a choice of services. Voice calls over the Internet, particularly the international calls, are usually cheaper because traditional voice gateway providers that charge certain toll fees are bypassed.

At least one Internet cafe, Netopia, has been offering international long distance call services using VoIP services since last year. Netopia is owned by ePLDT, the convergence arm of dominant carrier Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company.

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