The case of the disappearing load

Majority of cellphone users in the Philippines are prepaid owners. We experience from time to time the disappearance of our loads; we always receive unsolicited text ads sent by mobile phone companies; and we always thought that setting expiration dates in prepaid cards is legal since it has been implemented ever since texting became a popular activity among Filipinos. The extrajudicial load disappearances are no longer mysterious today.

When Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile delivered a privilege speech about how his load became a victim of dagdag-bawas, majority of Filipinos empathized with him since they also experience the same thing everyday.

Congress, through the ongoing public hearings, can address the following issues:

1. Determine once and for all the legality of imposing an expiration date on prepaid loads. Prepaid cards last 2-3months. But e-loads, which are popular in our communities, are only valid for 1-3 days.

2. Regulate or eliminate the sending of unsolicited text ads to cellphone subscribers. These ads, which entice subscribers to download multimedia icons, are sent almost every hour, sometimes twice every hour, everyday. Subscribers are charged when they read these ads.

3. Set up a mechanism (like a hotline) to properly address customer complaints regarding the loss of their load balance, dropped calls, delayed messages, text ads.

There are two types of cellphone users: Those who check their load balance from time to time – again if you check your balance, the subscriber is charged; and those who do not check the remaining value of their load.

For those who experience load disappearances, subscribers behave in different ways:

1. There are those who do nothing about the loss of their loads. Majority of subscribers behave this way. They are the silent majority. They disregard the loss of P10, P15 since they think they are just small amounts. But if they add up the losses in a month, the peso equivalent of the stolen value becomes higher.

2. There are many frustrated subscribers who don’t know where to lodge their complaint. They end up buying a new prepaid load.

3. There are subscribers who blame themselves for the loss of their loads. They think it has to do with their old cellphone units. Some replace their SIM cards.

4. There are subscribers who assert their right by demanding the replacement of their disappeared load. Only few are aware that subscribers can call the customer service units of mobile phone companies to inquire about their lost load. But calling customer service can be time-consuming, tiresome, and inconvenient.

One of our staff members lost P50 load. a few weeks ago She called the customer service demanding the return of her disappeared load. She was asked to provide her name, address, and cell phone unit. The customer service agent repeatedly asked the caller about the texting and calling record of the complainant for the past 24 hours. The call lasted for more than ten minutes. After 6 hours, the disappeared load was restored. The following day her load balance mysteriously disappeared again. She no longer called customer service again.

There is one subscriber who has been patiently and diligently calling customer service regarding his disappearing load. In fairness to the mobile phone company, his complaint is always acknowledged. But during his last call, his disappeared load was no longer restored because of his frequent calls. Lesson: Don’t always complain. Pero paano kapag talagang laging nawawala ang load mo?

This representation has filed a counterpart resolution in the Lower House to Senate Resolution 1120 that aims to investigate the questionable services provided by some of our telecommunication companies.

A few hours ago I attended a Senate hearing which tackled the speech of Senate President Enrile. Among the invited guests were representatives from major telecommunication companies and the National Telecommunications Commission. Consumer group Txtpower was also in the hearing.

Globe recognized that it has been receiving complaints about the vanishing loads. They received 59 complaints this year, 77 last year, 32 in 2007 and 70 in 2006. Unbelievably and unrealistically small figures! On the other hand, Smart confirmed that they are receiving 100 complaints everyday, or roughly 35,000 a year, about the problem of the vanishing loads.

The NTC has reportedly set-up a hotline since 2002. They claimed that most of the complaints involve requests for assistance on stolen cellphones. For example, only 206 complaints on vanishing loads were registered last year while the total number of complaints was 11,917.

Senators were brutally frank during the public hearing. They warned that Congress can always revise the franchise awarded to telcos if the latter will not rethink their business practices. There will be another hearing next week.

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