By Miguel R. Camus, February 20 2019; Philippine Daily Inquirer

Image Credit to ABS-CBN News

The China Telecom-backed Mislatel Consortium, which was named last year as the country’s third mobile player, is moving forward with pre-rollout activities amid a delay in the resolution of its franchise.

Adel Tamano, spokesperson for Mislatel, said the group recently inked agreements to use the spare fiber assets of the state-run National Transmission Corp. and private concessionaire National Grid Corporation of the Philippines.

“One of the pre-rollout activities is entering into partnerships for the backbone and network for our telco operations,” Tamano said in a text message on Tuesday.

This comes as the consortium is facing a delay in the rollout of its network of at least three months or until after the May 13 elections, said Eliseo Rio Jr., acting secretary of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).

This, in turn, would push back Mislatel’s plans to launch a mobile service to rival Globe Telecom and Smart Communications to late 2020.

Rio said the National Telecommunications Commission could not award Mislatel the license to operate a telco service and the radio frequencies since issues on the transfer of its franchise had yet to be formally resolved through a bicameral committee before Congress went into recess last Feb 9.

Under the bidding rules, Mislatel was given 90 days to meet a series of post-qualification requirements, including securing the transfer of its telco franchise, after being confirmed as the third mobile player on Nov. 19 last year. That deadline lapsed on Feb. 17, Rio said.

Nevertheless, he said Mislatel Consortium would not be penalized for the delay.

“It’s force majeure, beyond the control of Mislatel. We have to wait,” Rio said.

Delays came about as senators scrutinized violations to its franchise, known as Mindanao Islamic Telephone Co. Inc.

Eventually, the senate last Feb. 6 adopted a House resolution that approved the transfer of Mindanao Islamic to the Mislatel Consortium, which is led by businessman Dennis A. Uy’s Udenna Corp. and China Telecom.

In a statement on Monday, Sen. Grace Poe said there was no need for a bicameral committee since the Senate had concurred with the House resolution.

Poe, chair of the Senate public services committee, had said that the DICT should not “micro-manage” the issue.

“It is not an initiative of the Senate or Congress, but an executive/administrative project. In this instance, the DICT and NTC (National Telecommunications Commission). This is not the time to dilly-dally, they assessed it, they should pursue it and they should deliver. DICT should just perform its task,” she added.

Poe also explained that the resolution, seeking to transfer the ownership of Mindanao Islamic to the Mislatel consortium, was a concurrent one.

This means the Senate, Poe said, would only need to concur —which it did.

“It is a Concurrent Resolution—the Senate needs only to concur, it has given its concurrence. It has, in fact, been adopted by the Senate in plenary,” she said.

“The Rules of the Senate provides that Resolutions must only be adopted,” she added. “As compared to bills which follows the traditional three-reading approval procedure.”

Rio, on Tuesday, explained that the DICT was deferring the award of the frequencies “out of respect for the legislative process.”

“We understand that it is best to await the official act of the Lower House on the Senate resolution,” Rio said.

“Until this is done, in order not to preempt Congress and in due regard to the separation of powers of the legislative and the executive, the DICT cannot take further action on the matter,” he added. 

Mislatel, which will invest P257 billion through the five-year commitment period, earlier promised to cover 84 percent of the Philippine population in five years.

Its also committed a minimum average internet speed of 27 megabits per second (Mbps) in the first year. For the remainder, the speed will go up to 55 Mbps, which is on par with South Korea and Singapore, according to the Speedtest Global Index.