Mobile telecommunications is as indispensable as the conventional fixed telecommunications systems. In todays era of the so-called information society, such modes of telecommunications are essential to commerce, industry, agriculture and other sectors that make up the national economy. The introduction of mobile communications services not only radically changed the lifestyles and the conduct of work and activities of many people, but brought about the emergence of information as an important resource as well as a great input to the efficiency and effectiveness of organisations and institutions like the economies belonging to APEC.
Todays cellular mobile phone has come a long way from the time when the first generation of mobile communications went into commercial service. The latest generation of mobile telecommunications offers services beyond mere voice communications. Services usually provisioned through fixed network systems can also be delivered via mobile communications. The convergence of mobile communications with other forms of media, which many thought would happen only in the future, has gradually become a reality, as the technologies for mobile telecommunications continue to evolve. For now, access to mobile telecommunication services is no longer difficult. Demand for this mode of service started to rise at an accelerated pace, prompting many observers to conclude that mobile communications may overtake and surpass the traditional provisioning of the service. Nowadays, in the Philippines and many developing countries, these mobile terminals are very visible in all major urban centres, and are becoming common in places where its service was perceived to be non-existent. Over a period of time, these terminals became accessible and cheaper on a mass scale. As of the year ending 1998, the aggregate cellular subscriber load in the Philippines showed over 1.7 million users. This is a huge level compared with the initial subscriber base of 56,044 users in 1992. That translates to a growth rate of more than 30 times the original customer base over a six-year period. While rising demand for mobile and fixed services augurs well for an economically challenged country like the Philippines, issues about the effectiveness, reliability and affordability of these terminals and equipment for mobile and fixed telecom systems have surfaced critically. This flood of mobile terminals in the country can be attributed to a surge in demand for mobile phone service that is conservatively expected to reach 3.5 million subscribers by the year 2002, assuming current economic conditions hold. This increasing demand, especially for mobile telecommunication services, only heightened the need for government measures to address issues related to the provisioning of these terminals and equipment. Bearing this in mind, the Government took the initiative and promulgated RA 7925, otherwise known as the Public Telecommunications Policy Act of the Philippines. Its implementing guidelines contain pertinent provisions governing the operation and use of these terminals and equipment in the country. This critical piece of legislation principally tasks the regulatory agency, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), to ensure the safe, reliable, secure, compatible, inter-operable and quality standards of terminals and equipment used for operation within the Philippines. All of these terminals and equipment must be type approved by the NTC before its commercial entry into the domestic market. The guidelines of RA 7925 pertaining to terminals and equipment sought to guard against its proliferation from illegal sources that have been a significant factor in the rise of incidences of fraud, poor quality of service, harmful interference, etc. Affordability issues as well as the need for instituting a competitive environment in the supply of terminals and equipment, at both the operator level and the level of subscribers, were at the thrust of the efforts to forge a Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) within the sphere of APEC. It is necessary for the Philippines, being a recipient of these terminals, to be involved in the discussions of the APEC Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) in consideration of its implications to the issues depicted. This is also absolutely necessary to expand and enhance Universal Access for the Philippines. The APEC MRA is a document governing international trade in telecommunications equipment. It has been a year since efforts began to initiate an MRA that is acceptable to member economies of APEC. Participation by APEC economies to the APEC MRA is on a voluntary basis. These APEC economies identify the telecommunications terminals and equipment that are directly or indirectly connected to the public telecommunication system whether these are wire, wireless, terrestrial, or satellite based. APEC economies submit their technical regulations for these equipment and terminals with a list of Conformity Assessment Bodies, which are laboratories or certification agencies recognised by these economies, to conduct type approval testing and/or issue type approval certificates. The indicative participation of the Philippines in negotiations for an MRA is reflected in the annex of the TELMIN 3 Declaration. Phase 1 of the APEC MRA for test procedures is planned for implementation in the year 2005 while Phase 2, relating to certification, is scheduled for activation a year later. Meanwhile, the Philippines has already established an inter-agency task force to study and formulate recommendations on the institutional mechanisms needed for full participation in the MRA. The task force shall not be exclusively from government agencies, but will include members from the private sector. One of the reforms to be undertaken is the institutionalisation of the type approval process to tackle numerous complaints raised as regards costly type approval practices in the local telecommunication industry. The complaint that equipment that has been type approved by one carrier is not acceptable to another carrier has often been lamented. Although the Government, under RA 7925, takes the lead in the type approval process, our regulatory body does not have sufficient facilities to carry out type approval testing of various equipment. Our Department is exerting the necessary means for the appropriate budgetary allocation to be approved. Once the Government establishes the testing facility, one possible option is to privatise the type approval operations after the NTC has established and firmed up its process. Another alternative is for the Government to adopt the test results of equipment and terminals subjected to type approval in private testing laboratories. Conclusion An input forwarded for consideration is to adopt the European standard to allow manufacturers to conduct test procedures, instead of industry type approvals. The inter-agency task force, in conjunction with the APEC MRA, shall study this suggestion. In addition, the inter-agency task force will also consider the APEC MRA as among the inputs to formulate the type approval process. A year since the APEC MRA discussions began, we are now able to see how our efforts have paid off in enhancing universal service by way of competitive trade in telecommunications equipment. A larger mass of people see the benefit of access to telecommunications and information services, through these terminals and equipment, in the accomplishment of their respective tasks. Assessing the impact of the APEC MRA on the lives of people is difficult to quantify. However, its effects are certainly long lasting and definitely positive. We derive our encouragement from the transformation this effort is bringing about, and a great deal of strength from the realisation that, indeed, the public interest is being serve.