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Law no help in broadband 'misspeeds'

It may all come down to semantics for consumers seeking recourse against ISPs for slow Internet connection speeds.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Singapore Internet users, who are getting speeds far below those advertised, may have little in the way of legal protection.

Internet connection speeds are not included in the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore's quality of service (QoS) guidelines for ISPs (Internet Service Providers), and, according to an IDA spokesperson, consumers will have to lodge their grievances with their respective service providers.

The IDA publishes its QoS guidelines under the TCC 2005 (Code of Practice For Competition In The Provision of Telecommunication Service), and the specifications require ISPs to provide information of their services to customers, such as service provisioning for packages offered.

Although Internet connection speed is not part of the TCC 2005, parameters such as network availability, network latency and bandwidth utilization can be found within.

Irene Ng, associate director for Singapore-based Keystone Law Corporation's telecommunications practice, said that a customer may seek remedies against an ISP by pursuing a complaint for breach under the TCC 2005.

But it may all come down to semantics.

Ng said: "[Success in seeking remedies] may all depend on the wording of the promised speed and consumer contracts may not be drafted fairly.

"Then, in default of a contractual remedy, the recourse would be to see if the Internet service providers did adhere to IDA's minimum quality of service (QoS) or to general consumer protection laws."

Another approach, Ng noted, would be to seek the protection afforded under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act, where consumers could sue the service provider for an unfair practice of misrepresenting the terms of the service offered.

This option, however, is available only where the amount being claimed is less than the threshold limit of S$20,000 (US$13128), said Ng.

The IDA said that while advertised speeds are typically the maximum possible speeds achieved, consumers can check the actual speeds achieved from its monthly speed benchmarking reports.

Explaining why Internet connection speed is not included in its guidelines, the IDA said: "Internet connection speed can be affected by external factors beyond the control of ISPs. These may include a user's computer configuration and bandwidth provided by administrators of overseas Web sites."

The IDA spokesperson added that "foreign telecoms regimes have also excluded QoS standards for Internet connection speed for similar reasons."

StarHub told ZDNet Asia that its average broadband speeds are "very close to [its] advertised rates", and it takes feedback from the IDA's benchmarking test to refine its service.

Earlier this month, U.K. watchdog Which? ran a survey of U.K. bandwidth speeds and found the average speed to be far lower than advertised.

Which? questioned the way in which those speeds were advertised, and when conducted by ZDNet Asia, a spokesperson said in an e-mail that "the telecoms wiring of the U.K. is quite old, such that it is not capable of providing reliable speeds along the full length of a wire".

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