Singapore unveils initiatives to help population stay connected as stricter COVID-19 measures kick in

The ICT regulator has kicked off several "connectivity, content, and accessibility" initiatives, including galvanising pay TV operators to offer free preview channels and boosting ICT subsidy schemes, to ensure the local population can remain online.

Singapore has unveiled several initiatives aimed at helping the local population, particularly the elderly and underprivileged, stay online during the coronavirus outbreak. These include boosting existing schemes to provide more subsidies for students from low-income households who require digital access for home-based learning. 

The country's ICT regulator, Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), on Wednesday said enhancements had been made to various schemes to offer faster provisioning of ICT equipment and internet access as well as provide full financial support for low-income students who would not need to provide any co-payment for personal computers. There will also be more choices provided, including mobile broadband options and a second, subsidised computer for families with three or more school-going children. 

In addition, all residents in Singapore will be able to access more content via the country's broadcasting network Mediacorp and two pay TV operators StarHub and Singtel. For instance, the number of free preview channels will be bumped up to 30 on Singtel TV and 32 on StarHub TV. Singtel will also make its 30 free preview channels available to non-subscribers via their CAST streaming service.

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IMDA said it was also working with the industry to donate cash and IT products to support the digital needs of low-income households. Companies such as CrimsonLogic, HP Inc, Netlink NBN Trust, SGTech, Standard Chartered Bank, and Tata Consultancy Services were amongst those that had pledged their help. 

IMDA's announcement comes a day after the rollout of stricter measures, which forced non-essential businesses to close or have all of their employees work from home and food and beverage operators to provide only takeaway or delivery options. Meanwhile, stores that remain open, including supermarkets and pharmacies, are required to implement safe distancing measures, such as ensuring customers remain 1 metre apart while in line to make payments. 

The Singapore government also introduced a Bill to prohibit social gatherings of any size, both in public and private spaces. As it is, any person or business that is caught breaching the new measures, including gathering at void decks and playgrounds will face a SG$10,000 fine or jail term of up to six months, or both. Repeat offenders could see a higher fine of SG$20,000 and jail term of up to a year. 

Coined the "circuit breaker" period, the stricter safe-distancing measures will remain in effect until May 4 and were rolled out in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus in the country. To date, Singapore has recorded 1,481 COVID-19 cases, of which, 75% are local transmissions. It has had six fatalities. 

Singapore's Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran said: "We want to help all Singaporeans and residents to remain connected, productive, and entertained. Working with the telecommunications industry, we have taken additional steps to strengthen our network capacity and ensure connectivity for everyone. 

"We are partnering the media industry to offer more content choices across free-to-air, cable and over-the-top platforms. We will also give more help to students from low-income families who may need PCs/laptops and broadband services for their home-based learning.

"These initiatives to enhance digital connectivity, content and access are part of our national effort to work with all Singaporeans and residents to stay home and comply with the circuit-breaker measures."

According to IMDA, amidst the increased internet usage, the country's ICT infrastructure "remains robust and stable with a healthy network buffer", which it credited to "prior sustained investments" made by IMDA and local telcos over the years.  

The industry regulator added that it would further support telcos in making immediate investments to upgrade their networks and boost Singapore's network capacity, and ensure online activities and essential services could continue to function smoothly. IMDA noted that such upgrades would facilitate consistent network experience within residential areas, which were now seeing higher network usage, while capacity at potential high traffic sites would be progressively bolstered. 

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