PLDT, Inc. and its wireless communications and digital services subsidiary Smart Communications, Inc. sought the “understanding and patience” of its subscribers in Palawan who have been experiencing connectivity interruptions since the third week of November.

The telecommunications company made the appeal Wednesday through a statement its PLDT-Smart Corporate Communications sent to Palawan News. It explained that the weak signal being experienced in Puerto Princesa and municipalities in the province are due to their expansion activities.

PLDT-Smart said unstable connectivity was also caused by “roadworks” that damaged their fiber cables in areas where they are laid out.

“Now, more than ever, an increasing number of people are working from home and learning from home while trying to stay safe in this ‘new normal’. This is also why we’re seeing all these unfortunate hiccups that expansion brings, on top of the unexpected limitations that come with one of the world’s longest lockdowns, as we keep our field engineers safe while working as efficiently to install fiber among other technologies across the country, and that includes Palawan,” said the statement sent through the office of Cathy Yap-Yang, head of the PLDT corporate communications group.

“We ask for your understanding and patience. We are one with you in wanting to serve all with superior digital connections, but to achieve this, we need your understanding that new technologies too need fixes. Be assured that the record amount we have invested through the years, to get to where we are now, and can ever hope to be – to deliver more resilient connections is meant for you, our customer, our North Star,” it added.

PLDT-Smart said fiber breaks are not isolated to Palawan but are common across the country due to roadworks that are unintentionally disturbing their cables when workers dig in areas where they were not supposed to break deeply through the ground.

It said they are able to fix fiber problems quickly but there are times that repairs take long “as it did for two times in as many weeks in Palawan, where field engineers discovered the need to make extensive repairs to the damaged fiber cables”.

“At other times, it could be our fellow telco peers in the industry laying their own fiber, coming across ours. Rest assured, our field engineers have been relentless working to restore, and admirably so, in a pandemic backdrop: the current fiber fixes they’re conducting now in Palawan may mean weaker connectivity in the interim, but it won’t be long before they get the fiber cuts fixed fully,” PLDT-Smart claimed.


Internet-dependent workers express disappointment

Due to the delay in the return of good connectivity, some internet-dependent workers have expressed disappointment towards what they believe was PLDT-Smart’s nonchalant attitude in managing the situation that is affecting Palawan.

An online English teacher to Chinese students, who only wish to be known as “Emily”, said in an interview Wednesday with Palawan News that she almost lost her job for failing to log on for her class.

Emily said she just got hired a few days ago to teach her online class, but she was almost dismissed and she had to explain the connectivity situation in the city. She said shifting to Globe prepaid to connect was her only option.

However, she said even Globe’s signal has been equally problematic.

“Nagagamit naman siya (PLDT) tapos noong nabigyan na ako ng class, humina na ang signal niya. Ginawa ko na alternative yong Globe para lang makapag-klase kasi naka-cancel-an na ako ng klase. Five days na siya na halos wala… yong PLDT, kaya hindi na ako umasa. Ang sabi nila okay na, nabalik na nila, nagamit ko pa siya noong 7 p.m. (November 23), pero biglang nawalan na naman sila na walang advisory. Hindi ako nakapag-class, nagkaroon ako ng penalty,” she said.

“Noong kagabi (November 24), wala talagang advisory kaya noong magkaklase na ako, kinabahan ako. Wala akong choice kung hindi mag-cancel ng klase. Kaka-start ko lang pero nag-cancel na ako. Kaka-four days ko pa lang kahapon parang mawawalan na ako ng trabaho,” she added.

On November 18, PLDT initially announced that customers in Puerto Princesa will experience trouble with their internet services due to a fiber cut caused by road construction. But on November 19 at 9 p.m., it reported that connectivity was already fully restored.

Subscribers still complained of weak signals to sometimes long minutes of no connectivity. On November 23, PLDT posted an advisory informing subscribers that changes in the quality of data services will be experienced by home prepaid wifi customers.

On the next day, PLDT updated on its page to announce that connectivity had normalized, but as of this writing, the problem remains.

Like Emily, Milcah Lagumbay, whose job as a freelance visual artist is mostly dependent on transactions abroad, was also affected.

“Siyempre kausap ko customer ko every day and every night, wala naman kaming ibang way of communication kung hindi online, hindi rin puwede na text. Saka kapag may nag-contact sa akin na bagong customer, ‘di ko nari-reply’n agad. Kapag naka-reply na ako, nakahanap na siya ng iba,” she said.

Lagumbay said she lost her potential clients as she was unable to communicate with them during the past few days.

She was also worried that her clients might think that she ditched their project requests as she was unable to send messages to them.

“Minsan magsa-submit na lang ako, ‘di pa mag-send. Iniisip tuloy ng customer na scammer ako kasi bigla akong nawawala pagkatapos nila magbayad,” she added.

Aside from jobs catering to clients abroad, local online sellers are also affected by the internet problem.

Maddy Javarez, who operates an online clothing business, told Palawan News that out of all her posted items, she was only able to sell 25 percent. This is far from her expectation that she will be able to dispose 50 percent.

“Kasi noong nagkaroon ng disruption yong internet, nag-stop din muna ako nang upload — kasi nga ma-upload ko man siya, ‘di siya basta-basta makikita ng tao kasi patagal ng patagal ‘yong post, paunti ng paunti ang chance na mas marami makakita. Kaya naghintay muna ako medyo maging okay yong connection bago ako nag-u-upload ulit,” she said.

“Tapos sa recent upload ko parang 25 percent lang ‘yong nabenta. Usually, 50 percent or more ‘yong nabebenta ‘pag nag-upload ako kaya nagre-reupload lang ako sa Story or My Day para mas makita since mas madali siya mag-load kesa sa pictures sa timeline. Medyo effective naman, pero sana mag-okay na ang connection as in,” she added.


Prov’l board to call PLDT

Board member Ryan Maminta said they will call on the telcos, particularly PLDT, to explain their situation to the provincial board.

He said they also want to discuss with the telcos a proposal to give rebates or refunds to subscribers in light of the connectivity problem.

“Not only PLDT, but lahat ng providers, pero ang PLDT kasi sila ang may linya. Maraming dependent sa kanila mga radio stations, social media platforms, mga print and bangko; we will try to talk to them. May franchise sila kaya sana gamitin nila ito nang service-oriented,” he said.

“Kasama sa mga idi-discuss natin ay kung papaano ang billing nila kapag may problema ang internet kasi tumatakbo ‘yon. May mga developments din sila na baka kailanganin nila ang LGU,” Maminta added.

Maminta said he has observed that since October, internet interruptions happen almost every other week.

“For the past few weeks and months, ang interruptions nila halos linggo-linggo. I will really call on them on Tuesday kahit sa committee level. Sana ma-address na nila lahat ito,” he added.


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