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Gadgets & Home Improvement

Smartening up of telcos' services soon

Govt may set minimum standards for telcos, and let users end contracts, among other measures
The Straits Times - June 17, 2011
By: Chua Hian Hou
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Smartening up of telcos' services soon -- ST PHOTO: TERENCE TAN

SMARTPHONE users could enjoy smoother surfing on the go, as the Government is considering imposing minimum standards on mobile broadband providers.

Consumers could also be spared the hassle of getting stuck for years with contracts they are not happy with, after the industry regulator said it is looking into imposing a 'cooling-down' period.

This would give those who fork out for either fixed-line or mobile broadband plans a chance to terminate them if they are not happy.

The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) said it was considering these moves in a 15-page paper issued yesterday.

It comes as the growing popularity of smartphones means more Singaporeans are surfing the Net on the go.

Nine out of 10 mobile phones sold today are smartphones. Other mobile broadband users log on using thumb-size wireless modems called dongles which plug into their notebook computers.

At the moment, the IDA has minimum service standards for fixed-line broadband services only.

This has led to calls for it to introduce similar measures to safeguard the interests of Singapore's mobile broadband users.

The IDA said setting standards such as how fast a line must be in order to be called broadband, and how often a service can be down in a year is necessary to ensure a 'reasonable quality of Internet access' for consumers.

This would also prevent service providers from, say, buying less overseas bandwidth so as to provide services that are cheaper but not quite fast enough to be called broadband.

SingTel has welcomed the proposal, while StarHub and M1 said they are reviewing it.

The IDA said the 'cooling-down' period was needed because some consumers may not understand the true nature of the service they have bought until they try it out.

It added that it will have to consider the impact of the move on service providers, as there are administrative costs each time a customer terminates a contract.

Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) executive director Seah Seng Choon hailed the measure, saying that service providers should not be allowed to impose any penalties if the cancellation took place within the cooling-down period.

SingTel did not say what it thought of the cooling-off proposal, when asked by The Straits Times.

Both StarHub and M1 expressed reservations.

StarHub corporate communications manager Cassie Fong said: 'One issue to address is what happens if the customer has started using a premium, such as a laptop or phone, given to him as part of the deal.'

A third measure is also being considered by the IDA. Service providers could be made to disclose whether they are blocking or slowing down any sort of mobile Internet traffic like say, Internet chat service Skype.

Service providers currently disclose whether they block or slow down online content, but only for their fixed broadband services.

And the IDA believes their explanations may be too technical, and fail to be 'sufficiently useful and clear for end-users'.

In yesterday's paper, which was issued as a response to an earlier public consultation on the issue, the IDA said it wanted service providers to improve the way they explain these practices, so as 'to prevent confusion and improve ease of understanding for consumers'.

Case's Mr Seah said he 'looked forward to having the measures put in place as soon as possible'.

Earlier this week, SingTel became the first telco to reveal its average mobile broadband speeds - as opposed to the rarely achievable top speeds.

General industry practice is to use the maximum speeds in advertisements, but this led to concerns among consumers that they were not always getting what they were paying for.

SingTel has started using the average speeds in its advertisements.

M1 and StarHub have yet to follow suit but say that they are exploring the possibility.

chuahh@sph.com.sg

www.facebook.com/hianhou

4 WAYS TO PROTECT MOBILE BROADBAND USERS

 

  • Set minimum standards for mobile broadband services
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  • Introduce cooling-down period during which consumers may opt out of their contracts
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  • Disclose whether service providers are blocking or slowing down mobile content or services
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  • Improve explanations so consumers can readily understand what they are signing up for
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