NTC orders shutdown of ABS-CBN’s Sky Direct, TV Plus channels

CMFR/PHILIPPINES — The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) ordered Sky Cable Corporation’s cable satellite dish service, Sky Direct; and ABS-CBN TV Plus digital broadcast channels, to stop operations on 30 June 2020.

Sky Cable Corporation is an affiliate of the ABS-CBN Corporation. The NTC previously ordered the shutdown of ABS-CBN network after its franchise expired in early May. Sky Cable corporation shut down all Sky Direct transmissions after receiving the cease and desist order (CDO).

According to the CDO, the franchise of Sky Direct’s mother company, Sky Cable Corporation, to “install, operate, or maintain a Direct Broadcast Satellite Service” is no longer valid following the expiration of its franchise along with ABS-CBN network’s last May 4. ABS-CBN has ceased television and radio operations over their regular broadcast frequencies since 5 May 2020. 

According to a CNN Philippines report, ​NTC gave Sky Direct provisional authority to “offer direct-to-home broadcast services using satellite dishes and plug-in boxes to pick up broadcast signals” in May 2015. While the agency extended the authority to 23 June 2021, its validity was waived due to the expired franchise.

The CDO, signed by NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba, and Deputy Commissioners Edgardo Cabarios and Delilah Deles, also ordered the corporation to refund all Sky Direct subscribers from unconsumed prepaid services and other pre-collected charges.

Sky Direct has 1.5 million subscribers nationwide and is also providing television signals to remote areas in the country.

In a statement, Sky Cable Corporation said that the CDO deprives its subscribers “access to channels…that bring them news information, education and entertainment.” It also appealed to the NTC “to extend the same privilege given in the past to other companies whose franchises have expired but are currently pending in Congress to continue its operations until a resolution is passed.”

The corporation also made it clear that subscribers of Sky Cable and Sky Fiber internet services will not be affected by this order.

NTC also ordered ABS-CBN to stop its digital transmissions through TV Plus digital box via Channel 43, and AMCARA Broadcasting Network. The government agency said that Channel 43, which digitally broadcasts ABS-CBN’s educational and entertainment channels including the news and current affairs outlet Teleradyo, should have  ceased operations last May 5 following the expiration of the network’s franchise.

In 2019, President Rodrigo Duterte  repeatedly said that he would make sure that franchise of ABS-CBN would not be renewed . Early in his presidency, Duterte also criticized  ABS-CBN in his public speeches along with  critical media organizations Inquirer and Rappler.

Under this administration, bills renewing the ABS-CBN franchise had been  filed as early as 2016,  during the 17th Congress, but the Committee on Legislative Franchises failed to discuss the application. Bills were re-filed in 2019 during the 18th Congress. But, the House of Representatives only began discussing the franchise after it expired on May 4.

Also in May, ABS-CBN filed a petition to the Supreme Court (SC) to halt NTC’s COD. The high court has yet to discuss the appeal.

CMFR in a May 7 editorial said, “government closure of any large company affects many lives and leads to the loss of too many productive jobs. A democratic government should even be more careful in shutting down a media enterprise because this would violate the fundamental rights of free expression and media freedom enshrined in our Constitution.”