IMDA gets public opinion on competition and transparency in telco sector

The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) has launched a public consultation to seek views on its proposed converged competition code for the telecommunication and media markets. This is to streamline requirements to promote competition, encourage market innovation, better protect consumers’ interest and keep pace with the fast-changing digital landscape.

This comes after IMDA said that the advancements in digital and information technologies, as well as the evolution of business models, have led to rapid convergence between the telecommunication and media markets. The converged code aims to promote competition, enhance consumer protection and improve regulatory clarity to encourage licensees to develop new and innovative services.

As part of the converged framework for telecommunication and media markets, IMDA proposes to harmonise several parts of the telecom competition code and the media market conduct code. One example includes IMDA’s intention to adopt a consistent approach for dominance classification and the threshold to be used for the initial presumption of “significant market power” for both telecommunication and media markets.

In addition, to enhance consumer protection measures, IMDA proposes a common set of consumer protection rules to better protect consumers’ interest. This includes changes such as restricting detrimental mid-contract changes by telecommunication licensees. To protect consumers against changes to contractual terms and services that are detrimental, IMDA also proposes to extend the prohibition on detrimental mid-contract changes by telecommunication licensees, such as price increase or reduction of service features, to all licensees. For the media market, IMDA proposes to retain the requirement for Pay TV service providers to allow consumers to exit their fixed term contracts without any penalty if there are detrimental material changes to the contract, such as a significant reduction in the total number of channels.

Moreover, IMDA proposes to enhance information transparency by requiring a list of minimum billing information to be included in end users’ bills. Currently, the details provided in bills vary across service providers. IMDA proposes for service providers to include a breakdown of charges for service subscription, value-added, ad-hoc and third party services. End users’ bills should also indicate where services are provided on a trial or complimentary basis and the expiry date of such services.This is to promote transparency and avoid billing disputes, benefiting both consumers and service providers.

To enhance consumers’ understanding of the terms and conditions in contracts, IMDA also proposes that telcos to provide a critical information summary which summarises the key terms and conditions to consumers at the point of subscription. In addition, IMDA proposes to reduce the regulatory burden on licensees by adopting a “market-by-market” assessment approach before classifying any licensee as dominant in new markets. Currently, a dominant telecommunication licensee is assumed to be dominant in all telecommunication markets it participates in, unless proven otherwise.

IMDA has also reviewed how the increased use and importance of data and algorithms in a digital economy impact the application of competition rules. While IMDA is not proposing any changes to the converged code for these areas, IMDA seeks views on how these developments may affect the telecommunication and media markets and whether existing regulatory frameworks continue to be relevant given these larger economic shifts.

“This review seeks to converge the competition and consumer protection frameworks for the telecommunication and media markets, and provide greater clarity for our licensees amid the fast changing digital landscape. At the same time, the proposed changes will foster innovation in the market while safeguarding consumers' interests,” Aileen Chia, IMDA’s deputy chief executive and director-general (telecoms & post), said.

Similarly, IMDA is proposing to "relax" the interconnection requirements on dominant telecommunication licensees as legacy services provided over copper networks have become less critical with the growth of service adoption on new platforms such as the nationwide fibre network. Hence, IMDA proposes to remove network elements and services, and support facilities from the list of legacy services a dominant licensee is required to offer to competing licensees to facilitate interconnection of networks.