Vanishing prepaid loads – who’s really to blame?

It took years and for a Senate investigation to finally get something done about the long-standing issue of vanishing prepaid mobile phone credits or loads here in the Philippines.

It all started when Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s prepaid load had disappeared before he could even use it. He detailed his experience in his privileged speech at the Senate last June 2;

“Last Monday, May 25, 2009, I used my prepaid unit to make a call. A voice recorder intoned that my prepaid unit had no load, that it had a zero balance. I was amazed because at seven o’clock in the morning of that day my prepaid unit had a balance of Three Hundred Eighty Nine Pesos [P389.00].

“The next day, Tuesday, May 26, I loaded Six Hundred Pesos [P600.00] in my prepaid unit. At eight o’clock in the evening of that same day, the Six Hundred Pesos [P600.00] load was down to Five Hundred Nineteen Pesos [P519.00]. I never used the cellular telephone at all that day.

“The next day, Wednesday, May 27, at seven o’clock in the morning, the Five Hundred Nineteen Pesos [P519.00] balance the night before went down to Four Hundred Forty-Five Pesos [P445.00]. My prepaid cellular phone was closed and never used throughout the night before.

“This unusual happening made me wonder. I asked my secretary to report the matter to Globe Telecom and request for an explanation. I was simply curious to know why my load was declining even though I was not using my prepaid unit. I was not thinking of any misconduct or wrong-doing on the part of the service provider. I just wanted to unravel the mystery of my dwindling load.

“On my way to the Senate, I called Chairman Rowell Canovas of the National Telecommunications Commission. I related to him about my disappearing load. He promised to check it immediately. My conversation with Chairman Canovas was in the morning.

“At eight o’clock in the eve-ning of that same Wednesday, May 27, I was even more dumbfounded when I found out that the dwindling load of my prepaid unit suddenly and mysteriously rose to Five Hundred Thirty-Four Pesos and Thirty Two Centavos [P534.32]. I did not add any additional amount to the load of my prepaid unit, and no one ever did.”

It’s all too familiar now, as this has been what we ordinary consumers have been struggling with for the past years of using mobile phones with prepaid accounts. As I’ve blogged about last year, the telcos are not just spamming us, they’re even stealing our money.

The result of the Senate investigation was a revision of rules and the issuance of memorandum circular from the National Telecommunications Commission ordering the telcos to extend the shelf-life of prepaid load.

On top of that, the rules have been amended so that push messages, promotional and commercial advertisements and other broadcast messages shall only be allowed if the subscribers have given their consent via a subscription to the said service.

Well and good. Finally, something tangible was done by the government to address this issue. However, the issue it seems is far from over.

Finger pointing

During the Senate investigations, the telcos have washed their hands of the blame and instead pointed fingers to the content providers as the real cause for the vanishing prepaid loads.

They now have come out and said that the new NTC rules will kill their businesses. Plus, they’ve also denied the accusation that they are the root causes of vanishing prepaid load;

“We categorically deny that Value-Added Services are the reason for the so-called ‘vanishing load’ issue. It is impossible for VAS providers to cause vanishing load as we do not have the ability to deduct load from subscribers,”

It is a valid point and something that is worth looking into. Besides, they are just “content providers” after all, and the telcos are really the ones in control over their networks.

So who’s to really to blame? What is the real story behind our so-called vanishing prepaid loads? How come we consumers get these so-called messages without even subscribing to them to begin with?

Clearly, we just scratched the surface of this issue and it seems though, a can of worms has been opened up.

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