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3 consortia forming up to battle for Philippines' 3rd telco slot

MANILA, Philippines – Three consortia composed of small local players and foreign powerhouses have been teaming up to vie for the "3rd major telecom slot," said a government official, as they aim to bag a provisional authority as well as available 3G and 4G spectrum frequencies crucial for launching new services.

Eliseo Rio Jr, officer-in-charge and undersecretary at the Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT), said these 3 groups will each be led by Converge ICT Solutions Incorporated, Now Corporation, and Philippine Telegraph & Telephone Corporation (PT&T)

"Three groups have shown interest so far. These are PT&T, Now, and Converge ICT," Rio told reporters in Filipino, adding that they will be the leader of their own consortium.

These consortia, however, have not been finalized yet, Rio said on the sidelines of a public consultation in Quezon City on Wednesday, January 24.

The DICT acting chief said the terms of reference for selection of a third telco will be out by Feb 19. He added that DICT and National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) targest the naming of the country's telco entrant on April 2.

"So far, there is no [official list of prospective entrants] yet. That will be part of the system that they want to hide from the public to protect their bids. That (official list) will be known upon submission of bids," Rio said in Filipino.

Rio last week announced plans of conducting a "reverse bidding," where it will grant a provisional authority and award the available 3G and 4G frequencies to the winning concessionaire.

The proposed criterion for the 3rd telco selection is "highest 5-year financial roll-out plan" of ICT services that will make use of available frequencies. (READ: Naming Philippines' 3rd telco might take longer than expected)

Under the proposed guidelines, DICT said the candidates must have at least P400 billion to P500 billion capital spending budget for 5 years to compete with the two giants, PLDT Incorporated and Globe Telecom Incorporated.

Rio added that the winning consortium cannot be bought by or merged with PLDT and Globe.

In 2011, Manuel Pangilinan-led PLDT bought the firm operating Sun Cellular. In 2016, PLDT and Globe bought for P69.1 billion the telecommunication assets of San Miguel Corporation – the firm which was supposed to launch a 3rd major player that year.

Mel Velarde-led Now has been asking the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to reallocate mobile frequency to the company to be able to compete with PLDT and Globe. On Wednesday, the firm has confirmed its participation in the selection of the 3rd telco player.

"Several groups already reached out to us, we are engaging with them and we will be finalizing some details; but as of now I can not comment," Now business development head Kristian Pura told reporters on the sidelines of the event.

PT&T – led by a group of Lucio Tan Jr, Salvador Zamora II, and Benjamin Bitanga – has been actively searching for "financial and strategic investors" to regain its status as a major telecommunications force in the country.

"In a year, should we be granted the frequencies, we can launch services in big metropolitan areas from north to south. Depending on how things go, fund raising will be easy. We have the capital structure to able to accommodate it. As a public company, we can go to public markets and raise money," Miguel Bitanga, chief operating officer and treasurer of PT&T, said in a phone interview.

President Rodrigo Duterte last month ordered DICT and NTC to ensure that the 3rd major player would be "up and about" by March this year

Heeding prospective entrants' call, Rio said he will talk to the President and ask for an extension of two months. – Rappler.com