Philippines: Mobile TV still in limbo

Local carrier Smart Communications has not earned any revenue from its mobile TV service because the government has yet to issue policy guidelines on the technology.

PHILIPPINES--Almost a year since local carrier Smart Communications launched its mobile TV service in the country, the company has yet to earn a single centavo from the millions of pesos of investments it spent on building the infrastructure needed to support the new technology.

The reason: the government has yet to issue its policy guidelines on the implementation of mobile TV in the Philippines.

The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), the regulatory body in charge of establishing the guidelines, is not ready to release the document because it has yet to draft a governing regulation on the use of digital terrestrial television, which covers mobile TV.

The absence of these documents has left the PLDT-owned mobile operator little choice but to allow the public use of the service for free, said Ramon Isberto, head of public affairs department of Smart Communication, in a phone interview with ZDNet Asia. The service has been offered free for the past eleven months, Isberto said.

Benedict Ferrer, research manager at analyst firm XMG, said in an e-mail interview: "The lack of knowledge and consultation across the industry, from users to the service providers, is blocking the government from moving forward and delivering appropriate policies and procedures to govern mobile TV applications."

Jesus "JJ" Disini, president of the Internet and Society Program at the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law, believes the NTC is in no hurry to embrace mobile TV because there is insufficient market demand in the country to make it a success.

"I don't think regulatory policies will affect mobile TV," said Disini in an email interview.

He explained that the biggest hindrance for mobile TV in the Philippines would be licensing issues, since content providers would require royalty fees before their channels are re-broadcast into mobile phones.

Disini said: "This limits the scope of mobile TV entertainment, and until it can expand to rival cable TV, there's not enough justification to subscribe to the service.

"You also have to consider that other forms of information are available through your phone, either through SMS, MMS, GPRS or the Internet," he said.

As such, after hurdling through regulatory issues, Disini said Smart will face another challenge to recoup its investments--to offer a value proposition that is compelling enough for users to adopt mobile TV services.

Melvin G. Calimag is a freelance IT writer based in the Philippines.

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