POSTSCRIPT / October 18, 2018 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Win $868-M lotto, buy the Phl gov’t!

NOBODY won Tuesday night’s MegaMillions US lottery jackpot of $667,000,000. The next drawing is on Friday, its pot sweetened to an estimated $868,000,000 in annuity (or $494,500,000 if claimed in cash).

At $1=P54, that $868-million annuity amounts to P46.872 billion! With that mountain of money, you could try buying the Philippine government, whose annual budget is only P3.8 trillion, or less than 1/10 of the MegaMillions windfall.

If you as winner opt to claim the jackpot in cash, instead of in annuity or installment, the smaller $494.5 million (P26.7 billion) is still a dizzying pile. Smart operators who parley huge funds could claim the P46.872-trillion annuity and leverage it to try buying the entire government.

Caveat: While some Philippine officials are for sale, the government itself is not. You’ll just be paying for its operating budget. Such a purchase will not include the national territory, the population and the bureaucracy. Also, the staggering public debt may be passed on to you if you neglect the due diligence.

Then there could be a Swiss challenge. For instance, the Marcos dynasty, with its fabulous wealth stashed somewhere ready to be unleashed for the right purpose at the right time, might come up with a counter-bid.

The theoretical sale is a far cry from the turn of the century when a vanquished Spain ceded the Philippines, with Puerto Rico and Guam, to the United States for just $20 million. The Treaty of Paris of Dec. 10, 1898, effected the turnover and ended the Spanish-American war.

Now, snap out of the trillion-peso daydream and contact your trusted relatives in the US to buy a lottery ticket or two for you. Draw is on Friday (Saturday in Manila). Each bet costs $2, the price of a kilo of galunggong.

 Security crucial in picking 3rd telco

REACTING to reports that another foreign company has shown active interest in the government’s intention to end the duopoly in the telecommunications business by opening the door to a third player, I posted on Twitter days ago:

“National security should be a big factor in choosing a third telco. It’s about a third party, especially if a foreign entity, gaining deep access into what should be private communication.”

But securing the network from spies and hackers is easily said than done, considering the technical limitations of government regulators addressing the problems of inefficiency and ineffective costs of the setup dominated by Globe Telecom and PLDT Inc. (Smart).

With President Duterte having given the Department of Information and Communications Technology only until the end of the year to award the third slot, faster action on applications may be expected. Unless Duterte was again just joking.

DICT Secretary Eliseo Rio said last week that state-owned China Telecom has bought bid documents for the third slot. Earlier, Norway’s Telenor also expressed interest in investing and in challenging Globe and Smart.

Rio noted that only one firm, Now Telecom, has raised questions, accusing the National Telecommunications Commission of using the process for “money-making.”

Now Telecoms asked the Manila Regional Trial Court to stop the NTC from enforcing such terms as the collection of the P700-million “Participation Security,” the P14 to P24-billion “Performance Security,” and the P10-million non-refundable “Appeal Fee.”

Other parties that had bought bid documents (at P1 million per set) include Dennis Uy-led Udenna Corp., Davao-based TierOne Communications with the Luis Chavit Singson Group of Companies, Europe’s Telenor Group, Now Telecom, Philippine Telegraph and Telephone, and another unnamed group.

Available data show that the average Philippine connection speed of 5.5 Mbps is the slowest in the region — compared to South Korea, 28.6; Hong Kong, 21.9; Singapore, 20.3; Japan, 20.3; Taiwan, 16.9; Thailand, 16; New Zealand, 14.7; Australia, 11.1; Vietnam, 9.5; Malaysia, 8.9; Sri Lanka, 8.5; China, 7.6; Indonesia, 7.2; and India, 6.5.

(Mbps is short for megabits per second – a measure of network transmission or data transfer speed. A megabit is equal to one million bits.)

Internet World Stats has reported that South Korea has the fastest average speed in the world with its 28.6 Mbps, while Paraguay (No. 148) has the slowest at 1.4 Mbps. The Philippines is No. 100.

Despite its slow and expensive telco services, the Philippines – with its 62 million Facebookusers — has climbed to No. 12 worldwide in its number of Internet users. Last year, it was No. 15 with 54 million users for a penetration rate of 52 percent of its population.

Makati Rep. Luis Campos Jr., who is pushing House Bill 5337 to improve telecommunications services, said some 67 million Filipinos are browsing the web, showing a 63-percent penetration of its population.

On foreign equity, Campos said: “Substantial foreign equity in a third, fourth or fifth telco is a non-issue because the 1987 Constitution limits foreign interest in public utilities (such as a telco) to up to 40 percent only anyway.”

He added that the two dominant players already have substantial foreign equity owners or partners: “Both First Pacific Co. Ltd. of Hong Kong and NTT DOCOMO Inc., the dominant mobile phone operator in Japan, have substantial equities in PLDT. Singapore Telecommunications Ltd., the largest mobile network operator in Singapore, also has a substantial stake in Globe.”

As to the security aspects of a third telco possibly controlled by foreigners, Campos said: “Potential security risks are always there, but these risks can and should be managed by strong regulators.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 18, 2018)

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