Philippines: Remember Consumers in '.ph' Domain Dispute

MANILA, Philippines--Gerry Kaimo, a well-known Filipino consumer advocate, is asking the country's Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) not to forget consumers as it resolves the debate involving the nation's ".ph" country code top-level domain (ccTLD) .

Kaimo lashed out at what he called "disregard for consumers" in the way the case is being resolved. An April 18 DTI statement asked contending parties "to refrain from issuing statements to the media on their respective positions while the DTI is undertaking the appropriate processes."

The .ph dispute pivots on two issues: first, whether DotPH - the registry and sole registrar of the .ph domain as designated by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) - has engaged in price-setting detrimental to consumers. And second, whether the "value-added" features introduced by DotPH, specifically expanding the country domain (.ph) to be also the "phone" domain is disadvantageous to the Philippines.

Invoking the E-Commerce Law and the Consumer Act, the DTI recently said it has taken over the Information Technology and E-commerce Council (ITECC) as the government body that will take charge in resolving the .ph tussle. The ITECC manages key issues affecting the Philippines' ICT initiatives.

Last month, opponents of the way .ph domain has been managed by DotPH Inc., elevated their concerns to the ITECC. The ITECC sub-committee on consumer protection first handled the .ph debate. Apparently due to the legal nature of some of the complaints, the Legal Cluster of the ITECC later got involved in resolving the issue.

The DTI, through the office of Assistant Secretary Toby Monsod, issued a statement April 18 saying it has tasked the Bureau of Trade Regulation and Consumer Protection (BTRCP) to study the consumer issues in the dispute. It said it is giving the opponents two weeks "to submit supporting documents on their respective positions on the matter." The DTI, however, qualified: "This will not preclude any other documentation the Technical Panel may require later."

On other "consumer issues" that have been brought up against DotPH, documentation is required to be submitted for consideration by the BTRCP, also within two weeks. "Any allegations submitted beyond the two-week period will not be entertained by BTRCP and will no longer be alluded to by any party in the future," the statement warned.

"No one can deprive me of my right to speak now, especially since I was not present in the April 17 'closed-door meeting' wherein DTI, DotPH and the complainants reportedly agreed on that media ban," Kaimo said.

Among the key parties who attended that meeting are DTI's Monsod, the Legal Cluster of the Information Technology and E-Commerce Council (ITECC) led by Janet Torral, DotPH, led by Joel Disini, and the newly formed Philippine Domain Authority Conveners (PHILDAC), led by J.R. Contreras.

Kaimo complained that the two weeks given by the DTI for the documentation of consumer complaints "would not be enough," given that there are now about 20,000 .ph domain names registered by DotPH and its 150 or so registrars and partners. He also said that the DTI's April 18 statement was mum on whether DotPH agrees to furnish the complaining parties the contact details of the owners of the 20,000 .ph domain names.

The idea to approach the owners of the 20,000 .ph domain names, Kaimo said, stemmed from earlier claims that DotPH's clients have not been issued receipts for the past few years.

Kaimo further argued that putting on a media gag order about the .ph issue would prevent the concerned groups from tapping the media's help in disseminating to the owners of the 20,000 .ph domain names and other possible complainants, that some parties like the PHILDAC and Kaimo, are currently gathering complaints about the way DotPH has been managing the .ph domain.

"How can you gather and document all 20,000 of these complaints if you only have two weeks to do that? Not only is it impossible, it also defies any logic," he said.

"Also, if this is a consumer case, then why should it be held in a closed-door meeting and why should they shut out the media?" Kaimo said.

Kaimo is a founding member of the Philippine League of Democratic Telecommunication, Inc (PLDTI), a consumer group dedicated to fighting abuses by large business interests against the general public welfare. But unlike Kaimo and the PLDTI, the PHILDAC that was formed only a few weeks ago, was part of the April 17 closed-door meeting with the DTI.

The DTI has assigned PHILDAC to submit documentation of consumer complaints against DotPH.

Kaimo said that he is currently working with PHILDAC to meet DTI's requirement.

"When the DTI took the role of go-between in this issue," Kaimo said, "it should have made announcements to the public that such a case was being resolved and that anyone who have similar complaints should approach them."

Also at the root of Kaimo's complaint is the organizational structure of the ITECC legal sub-committee which was one of the ITECC subcommittees that handled the case before the DTI took over.

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