S'pore tweaks telecom policies to 'safeguard' consumers

Country's ICT regulator amends Telecom Competition Code to disallow telcos from "cross-terminating" service agreement and automatically charging consumers after end of free service trials.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

SINGAPORE--The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) has tweaked the country's Telecom Competition Code to prevent service providers from pressuring consumers into making payment of disputed charges and subscribing new services.

In a statement released Wednesday, the ICT regulator said the amendments reflected market developments since the last review between 2003 and 2005, and feedback from consumers and the industry.

Effective from Jan. 21 next year, the changes will "further safeguard consumers' interests" and drive competition in the local telecommunications market, the IDA said.

It highlighted two key changes, one of which will bar licensees from "cross-terminating" service agreements should the consumer breach terms and conditions of another service agreement from an affiliated operator, or if the consumer has subscribed to a basic telephone service.

"This would mean that telecom operators cannot exert undue pressure on consumers to make payment of disputed charges through threatening to terminate services offered by an affiliated telecom operator, unless the services are offered under the same service agreement," the regulator explained.

It also protects the consumer's right to the use of a basic telephone service, it added.

In addition, licensees will no longer be able to automatically charge consumers after the end of a free service trial without first obtaining expressed agreement to do so from the consumer.

Other changes to the telecom code were made specifically to drive market competition, the IDA said. One amendment will give the regulator the ability to seek prohibition against the abuse of dominant position to any licensees which are identified to have "significant market power", even though they may not be classified "Dominant Licensees" under IDA's policy.

This will apply to licensees that may have gained market power in some market segments over time, allowing the IDA to investigate and take necessary steps to address actions that restrict competition.

The authority said it will continue to monitor market developments and consumer feedback, and make further amendments when necessary to "improve consumers' experience".

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