Muted foreign interest in 3rd telco slot

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The Philippines is holding a bidding for its third major telecommunications service provider, in a bid to break the duopoly of PLDT Inc. and Globe Telecom Inc. -- BW FILE PHOTO

By Denise A. Valdez

FOUR LOCAL FIRMS and only one foreign company, Norway’s Telenor Group, firmed up their interest in participating in the auction for the country’s third major telecommunications service provider by purchasing the bid documents on Monday — the first day of its availability.

Representatives from businessman Dennis A. Uy’s Udenna Corp., Telenor Group, Now Corp., a consortium of Davao-based TierOne Communications International Inc. and former politician Luis “Chavit” C. Singson’s LCS Group of Companies, as well as an unidentified local company, bought the bid documents at the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) office in Quezon City.

“Actually we were just thinking four or five would be competing. But I think we would have more,” NTC Commissioner Gamaliel A. Cordoba said in a briefing.

Mr. Cordoba said he was surprised that five companies have already bought documents on the first day, while some who have been “very vocal” about their interest have not done so yet.

“We’re surprised na ganoon karami [that it was that many], because we were just thinking ang sasali [those who would join] would be four to five,” he added.

However, the muted interest from foreign firms comes after Information and Communications Technology Acting Secretary Eliseo M. Rio, Jr. previously said China Telecom, South Korea’s KT Corp. and LG Uplus Corp., and Vietnam’s Viettel Telecom are keen on participating in the bidding.

Telenor, the incumbent telecom operator in Norway, is looking for a local partner to boost its bid. Late last month, Shanshil Ahmed Shibly, deputy director for regional operations of Telenor subsidiary Grameenphone, said the company is in talks with potential local partners.

However, the NTC is hopeful more firms will come forward. Bid documents can be purchased online or at the NTC office for P1 million until the deadline for submission of bids on Nov. 7.

“The selection documents are composed of information on the Philippine market, DICT’s (Department of Information and Communication Technology) national broadband plan, and instruction to participants which include everything they have to do and follow to submit their selection documents,” Mr. Cordoba said.

Meanwhile, Philippine Telegraph and Telephone Corp. (PT&T) confirmed in a text message that they have downloaded the bid documents from the NTC website, but will make the payment at the NTC next week.

“We have downloaded the bid documents,” PT&T President James G. Velasquez told BusinessWorld.

Aside from TierOne, PT&T and Now Corp., Mr. Rio previously identified Converge ICT Solutions, Inc., Transpacific Broadband Group International, Inc. (TBGI) and EasyCall Communications Philippines, Inc. as the local companies keen on becoming the third telco.

The government’s initiative to attract a third telco player comes at the request of President Rodrigo R. Duterte, who wants to break the duopoly of Globe Telecom, Inc. and PLDT, Inc.

After the opening of bid documents on Nov. 7, Mr. Cordoba said it would be able to identify the bidder with the highest level of commitment shortly after. The “provisional winner” will then be given 90 days to finalize its business and roll-out plans, among other requirements.

Mr. Rio earlier assured that the third telco will be named before Christmas.

Although buying bid documents comes at no restrictions, eligible participants are only those with a congressional franchise or pairs with a company that has one, have a paid-in capital of at least P10 billion, have experience as a nationwide telco provider for the last 10 years, and have no outstanding liability to the NTC as of Oct. 1. It also cannot be affiliated with Globe or PLDT.

Hastings Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc., has a majority stake in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls.