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Singapore mobile users must be given access to OTT services

Country's ICT regulator declares that mobile consumers must be given access to all legitimate online content and apps, and telcos shouldn't be allowed to block such access or render these apps inaccessible.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Mobile consumers in Singapore must be given access to Web content and apps, and Internet service providers (ISPs) should not create barriers to block such access.

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That's the statement ICT regulator Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) issued after the CEO of local telco, SingTel, urged regulators to allow carriers to charge over-the-top players such as WhatsApp and Skype for the use of their networks. The country has three mobile operators: SingTel, StarHub, and M1. 

An IDA spokesperson told ZDNet it was "closely monitoring" developments in this space and tracking international discussions between telcos and OTT service providers, specifically, debates around Net neutrality. "These discussions are complex as they require policies and regulatory measures that balance the need to promote innovation and competition in the Internet space, ensure non-discriminatory access to the Internet, and ensure protection of consumer interest," he said. 

He noted that IDA, today, assumes a general policy position that consumers should have access to all legitimate content and applications on the internet. ISPs are not permitted to block or impose restrictions on such access, and should not implement charges or other measures that cause any legitimate Web content to be inaccessible or unusable, he added.  

"ISPs are also not allowed to adopt internet traffic management practices that will compromise IDA's Quality of Service standards for internet access or any anti-competitive discriminatory practice that would harm consumers' interest.

"We are studying SingTel's and StarHub's plans to ensure IDA's policies are updated and continue to protect consumers' interests, while allowing market innovation," the spokesperson said. 

"ISPs are also not allowed to adopt internet traffic management practices that will compromise IDA's Quality of Service standards for internet access or any anti-competitive discriminatory practice that would harm consumers' interest."

~ S'pore ICT regulator, IDA

The Singapore regulator's comments after SingTel CEO Chua Sock Koong reportedly cautioned that the amount of investments telcos poured into improving their networks could be drastically reduced unless they were given the right to start charging OTT players for tapping their networks. Speaking at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week, Chua said: "The main problem we have as an industry is we have been unable to monetize this increased demand [for OTT services]...and [average revenue per user] has fallen over time. I think the pace of change in our industry is relentless so clearly we can't afford to stand still. If we are not careful we could stand the risk of being totally disintermediated."

Her comments triggered a public backlash, with several consumers calling the telco "greedy". The outcry prompted SingTel to post this statement on its Facebook page: "There seems to be some misunderstanding on this topic, so we thought we should clarify. SingTel would like to assure our customers that we do not plan to charge them separately for the use of services like WhatsApp."

The Singapore telco, though, did not rule out its desire to charge OTT players. And it appears the other two operators also are keen to "work with" and create "sustainable business models" with OTT service providers. 

When contacted, an M1 spokesperson sent me this statement: "M1 has invested in building an advanced network with high-speed capabilities and the capacity to carry data-intensive applications and services. This enables customers to enjoy the benefits of OTT services. We will work with reliable OTT service providers to build a sustainable business model to continue to invest and upgrade our network."

A StarHub spokesperson said the telco would like to explore "mutually beneficial and sustainable business models" with OTT players. She added that the proliferation of mobile devices and growing user desire to be always connected had led to increasing mobile data usage. The operator saw its post-paid data traffic climb 23 percent last year, she said, adding that StarHub anticipates this upward trend to continue.

"We continue to invest substantially in our mobile network so as to serve our customers better. For example, we regularly install new mobile base stations to enhance network capacity and coverage," she said, noting that the telco will be launching its VoLTE service by the mid-2014 and upgrading its 4G network to LTE-Advanced, supporting download speeds of up to 300Mbps. This network upgrade is targeted for completion before end-2014, she added.

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