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House-sponsored VoIP bill nears approval

A House-sponsored measure proposing the deregulation of voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services in the country nears approval after it passed second reading at the House of Representatives, learned Thursday.

"The House just passed on second reading the VoIP bill. The third reading is just ministerial," said George Kintanar, consultant to the House committee on information and communications technology, in a text message to Wednesday night.

There were several proposed measures filed last year to deregulate VoIP in the Philippines. House bills 3476 and 3644, filed by Representatives Clavel Martinez and Abraham Kahlil Mitra respectively, would open commercial VoIP to non-telecommunication companies.

The House ICT committee eventually came out with a consolidated bill.

VoIP is considered a disruptive technology for the telecommunications industry since it now routes phone calls through the Internet instead of the traditional public switched telephone networks, thereby lowering cost of making calls.

In the Philippines, VoIP has dramatically slashed cost of making internationals calls to as low as .05 US cents from the current .40 US cents a minute.

In a guideline issued last year, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) considers VoIP as a value-added service, which means the Philippine Telecommunications Act or Republic Act 7925 no longer governs it.

Telecommunications companies granted a Congressional franchise are the only entities allowed to offer voice services. As a value-added service, VoIP falls under the deregulated services, according to the NTC memorandum circular number 05-08-2005.

The House ICT committee said last year that the consolidated bill aims to "complement" the NTC guidelines that were issued last year.

The NTC guideline has already opened up the Philippine VoIP market to value-added service providers, such as Internet service providers who can now begin offering VoIP without the need to apply for a Congressional franchise.

A revised guideline was eventually issued by the NTC that identified parties that were allowed to offer VoIP services. This also required agreements between telecommunications carriers and Internet service providers (ISPs) regarding service performance standards, interconnection charges, access costs, as well as consumer security and privacy.

Prior to the NTC ruling, the Philippine telecommunications companies and value-added service providers, such as Internet service firms, were at loggerheads over the re-classification of VoIP as a value-added service.

The local telephone companies had been engaged in heated public debates with the NTC, and the value-added service providers.

The NTC officials, however, said last year that the local telephone industry might contest its VoIP guidelines in local courts, as with previous controversial guidelines they have issued in the past.

First posted 10:29pm (Mla time) April 06, 2006
By Erwin Lemuel Oliva

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