POSTSCRIPT / February 17, 2005 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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'Sun' upsets celfon giants? Dats good 4us subscribers

MONOPOLY OGRE: I am not a Sun Cellular phone subscriber, but I welcome this small company’s offering cheap, unlimited 24/7 text and call service among users of its system.

As a rule, monopoly is bad for consumers. We need not prove that all over again.

In the booming cellphone business ruled by the giants Smart Communications and Globe Telecom, a small player that bucks the system stokes consumers’ hope of lowering rates, improving the service and cutting down the arrogance of dominant players.

Our minimum expectation as cellphone users is that Sun’s brash entry will force Smart and Globe to lower their rates. Indications are that the two big operators are beginning to feel the pressure as subscribers continue to migrate to Sun.

That is good, di po ba?

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NTC HEARING: But instead of allowing market forces to operate freely, the giants Smart and Globe have asked the National Telecommunications Commission to step in and stop for them the pygmy interloper.

The NTC did the right thing in not granting their crybaby plea and instead scheduling a hearing next week. There is no urgency, no emergency, to justify an instant order for Sun to desist.

This is one case where the subscribing public should play jury to the hilt and pressure government to maintain a liberal pro-consumer attitude.

Let the people, the consumers, themselves resolve the issues.

If Sun’s rates and services are acceptable to the public, let them be. If they are unacceptable or are injurious to public interest, subscribers themselves will dump Sun without NTC having to step in.

If Sun is guilty of any violation, Smart and Globe or any aggrieved party should just sue it without having to cry all over the place.

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PREDATORY?: The No. 1 issue raised against Sun is that its 24/7 unlimited service smacks of “predatory pricing” since other telecom firms, they claim, would be priced out of the market. The 24/7 promo is allegedly a bait to lure Smart and Globe subscribers.

If dissatisfied subscribers of Smart and Globe find the terms of Sun more favorable to them, who are we to stop them? Why should we think for them?

It is ridiculous to accuse a small-time operator like Sun of predatory pricing.

The term refers to “an anti-competitive measure employed by a DOMINANT company to get/protect market share from new or existing competitors.” It involves temporarily pricing a product low enough to end a competitive threat.

From this definition, Sun cannot be accused of predatory pricing for the very obvious reason that it is not a dominant carrier. In fact, it is the smallest player in the market now with less than 5 percent share.

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BULGING BILLIONS: Of some 33 million cellphone subscribers nationwide, Smart has cornered more than 19 million (59 percent), leaving 12.5 million (36 percent) to Globe and a measly 1.5 million (5 percent) to newcomer Sun.

As for their NET income, Smart earned P16 billion in 2003 and P11.6 billion in the first six months of its fiscal 2004. Globe netted P10 billion in 2003 and P12 billion in 2004.

While the two giants were busy counting billions in net profits the past two years, Sun has been reporting losses.

These eye-popping figures were among the reasons why the cash-strapped administration initially wanted to slap the telecom giants a kind of windfall tax as part of President Arroyo’s eight-point crash revenue program.

Timely lobbying with Malacanang nipped the budding revenue measure, sending the rest of us mortals a reminder of the power of money and monopoly.

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SLOPPY SERVICE?: Another accusation hurled at Sun is that it covers a smaller area and has a high frequency of dropped calls and that sending text messages through its system is difficult.

Its detractors say that for every 100 Sun subscribers who try to make a phone call, only 38 are able to make a connection. To make matters worse, the calls of Sun subscribers are reportedly cut off after 15 minutes.

I have no technical study in my hands to confirm or debunk that, but my hunch is that it could be true to some extent.

Sun has been operating for less than two years only compared to Globe and Smart that have been in the business for more than 10 years now. This could explain the disparity in their coverage and capacity.

Sun has more than 1,300 cell sites versus Globe’s more than 3,000 and Smart’s more than 4,000 nationwide. To close the gap, Sun says it is spending $200 million to expand its capacity to accommodate six million subscribers.

Whatever it is, if subscribers are not happy with Sun, they will leave it without prodding from anyone.

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COFFEE & CANCER: What’s the score on coffee in relation to health? It depends.

If you listen to the coffee people, including your friendly neighborhood coffeehouse, the brew is good for the body, stimulating it to peak performance, whatever that means. But its critics attribute to caffeine various ailments and discomforts.

Now comes a report of the Associated Press on a study on Japanese drinkers saying that that hot cup of coffee may do more than just provide a tasty energy boost — it also may help prevent the most common type of liver cancer!

The study cited, involving more than 90,000 Japanese subjects, found that people who drank coffee daily or nearly every day had half the liver cancer risk of those who never drank coffee.

I have no ready figures for Filipinos, but the American Cancer Society estimates that 18,920 new cases of liver cancer were diagnosed in the US last year and some 14,270 people died of it. Causes include hepatitis, cirrhosis, excess alcohol consumption and diseases causing chronic inflammation of the liver.

Around here, some doctors have added pollution and stress to the causes. But I guess those two hazards are just conveniently mentioned whenever doctors cannot pinpoint the culprit.

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JAPANESE STUDY: The AP report said that animal studies have suggested a protective association of coffee with liver cancer.

With that, a research team led by Monami Inoue of the National Cancer Center in Tokyo analyzed a 10-year public health study to determine coffee use by people diagnosed with liver cancer and people who did not have cancer.

They found the likely occurrence of liver cancer in people who never or almost never drank coffee was 547.2 cases per 100,000 people over 10 years. But for people who drank coffee daily, the risk was 214.6 cases per 100,000.

Their findings were reported in the latest issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

No, the study was not funded by Starbucks or some coffee plantation owners, but by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare of Japan. A counterpart US study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

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BEN WRITES ‘30′: I picked up this report on (coffee and) liver cancer because of the untimely death of our Opinion Editor Ben Bernales attributed to it.

It occurred to me that some of us columnists who have not performed according to the deft baton of Ben may have contributed to the stress that, I suspect, may have contributed to the deterioration of his liver.

It is no joke orchestrating the work of a herd of hardheaded opinion writers, some of who sometimes foul up schedules by not submitting their masterpieces on time.

The entire issue for the day, sometimes totaling more than 100 pages, could be delayed by one late page. And one page could be delayed by just one late article.

I have to plead guilty, and may Ben grant me absolution from where he now sits in Heaven, to having submitted my column a few times beyond the deadline.

Most editors fret and tear their hair, if any, when some materials they need are missing at deadline. Why not stick in a substitute? Many times this is done, but the aggravation of late materials could be that stressful.

Another regret I have is that in my more or less five years of writing POSTSCRIPT for the STAR, I have never met Ben! I had talked to him a few times on the phone, under stress of deadline and therefore in a strained atmosphere, but not in person.

I cannot explain it, but suddenly I miss Ben.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 17, 2005)

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