S'pore sets new rules for data roaming, broadband speeds

Singapore's ICT regulator announces new mobile and broadband initiatives to help prevent "bill shocks" to consumers and ensure greater transparency of advertised broadband speeds.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore has introduced new consumer protection measures for mobile and broadband services, including regulations for data roaming services and requiring providers to be more transparent about broadband speeds offered.

In a statement Monday, the country's ICT regulator said mobile operators are to put in place new systems to prevent unwanted mobile charges incurred by data roaming and mobile premium rate services (PRS).

The new measures for data roaming, said IDA, complement existing regulations, including the recently-tweaked Telecom Competition Code and the PRS code of 2007.

Specifically, IDA has rolled out three new initiatives to help users better manage their data roaming usage and minimize "bill shocks" caused by high data roaming charges.

Firstly, from Jul. 1 this year, mobile operators must obtain explicit consent from consumers before providing any data roaming service. They must also be upfront about the prices, terms and conditions of these services so that subscribers can make informed choices on whether to opt for them, IDA said.

By the first quarter of 2012, operators are also expected to offer for free a data roaming suspension service that caps usage at S$100 (US$78.88) in any single monthly billing cycle.

In addition, subscribers will be able to deactivate their data roaming service prior to leaving Singapore and reinstate data services upon their return from overseas. This service is also expected to be implemented by the first quarter of 2012.

IDA noted that it will leave the operators to "work out the specific implementation methods and to supplement them with additional consumer protection measures commercially" should they choose to do so.

Introduction of PRS barring service
Operators will also be required to provide subscribers the option of a PRS barring service. Upon activation, a customer cannot send, receive or subscribe to any chargeable PRS, and hence cannot be billed for it, IDA explained in the statement. This method, it added, will help ease parents' worries about children singing up for premium services without fully understanding them.

IDA revealed it will set aside a prefix number that mobile operators may migrate PRS to, which will facilitate the provision of the barring service.

According to IDA, mobile operators have up to the first quarter of 2012 to iron out the implementation details and service provisioning. However, with immediate effect, the regulator will be imposing more stringent penalties for contravention of the PRS Code.

Errant PRS providers will face heavier monetary penalties, while repeat offenders will have their licenses suspended or cancelled, it added. IDA will also exercise its right to suspend or cancel a PRS provider's license at any time.

Another mobile-related announcement IDA made Monday was that the regulator has undertaken a review of its Quality of Service (QoS) for 3G mobile services. It is currently seeking inputs from operators on the revised mobile QoS framework, which is aimed at raising standards for various indicators such as service coverage in outdoor and indoor areas, roads and MRT tunnels.

More transparent Internet broadband speeds
IDA has also mandated local Internet service providers to publish the "typical speeds" that broadband users can expect to experience. The move, it noted, was in response to public feedback that actual speeds offered by operators often do not match up to what had been advertised.

Leong Keng Thai, IDA's director-general overseeing telecoms and post, said in the statement that "information transparency is an important prong of our regulations in safeguarding consumer interests". He added that with a clearer indication of Internet broadband access and download speeds, consumers can make better-informed choices when selecting their broadband plan.

Given the complexity in measuring broadband speeds, IDA said it will consult and work with ISPs over the next few months to finalize the measurement parameters--such as the type of broadband plans, devices and Web sites to be covered--and the publication requirements. This is expected to be ready by early 2012, it added.

New measures pave way for better services
Leong noted that the various new measures do not limit operators' flexibility to offer competitive and innovative services. "On the contrary, these measures will help operators provide better services to their customers by helping their customers better understand the broadband plans offered in the market and manage their mobile phone bills.

"This in turn will help improve customer satisfaction with the services provided by operators."

At the same time, he pointed out that consumers still need to play their part and exercise "due care and diligence" to understand the prices, terms and conditions of any service before subscribing to it.

Singapore is not alone in its approach toward data roaming fees and broadband speeds. Broadband providers in the United Kingdom have been criticized by telecom regulator, Ofcom Consumer Panel, for the wide disparity between the speeds touted by providers and the actual speeds customers are getting after having their lines installed.

In December last year, the European Commission launched a public consultation on the costs of data roaming and the effectiveness of regulation within the region.

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