Obama’s call for net neutrality: What is Singapore’s position on the issue

US President Barack Obama’s call for net neutrality will not have much impact for Singapore, say analysts. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
US President Barack Obama’s call for net neutrality will not have much impact for Singapore, say analysts. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - US President Barack Obama’s call for net neutrality will not have much impact for Singapore, say analysts.

Earlier this month, Mr Obama asked the Federal Communications Commission to take up the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality. This includes banning the blocking of websites, throttling of Internet traffic or content owners paying Internet service providers (ISPs) to prioritise traffic to their sites.

The idea of net neutrality is for all data on the Internet to be treated equally, and ISPs should not be allowed to create cyber fast lanes for the highest bidders. Otherwise, smaller content companies that could not afford the fees would suffer.

Analyst Ryan Huang of Britain-based brokerage IG said: “The danger is in interpreting or pushing the agenda to an extreme, which is unlikely to happen in Singapore."

Here, the industry regulator Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) has struck a delicate balance between protecting consumers and ISPs’ business interest.

IDA has issued guidelines, stating that ISPs are allowed to sell “fast lanes” for a fee as long as they continue to provide good service levels to the average user. ISPs are also not allowed to block legitimate Internet content, or degrade access to websites, apps or services to the point that they become unusable – although IDA did not outrightly ban “throttling” or traffic restriction.

Many ISPs here do restrict peer-to-peer traffic, largely comprising BitTorrent file-swopping activities. They suck up huge amounts of bandwidth. In their defence, telcos said they have the right to optimise the use of their network resources.

Senior analyst Clement Teo of US-based market research firm Forrester said that transparency in broadband cost and capacity is more important for consumers here as they need to know what they are paying for. "Forrester does not take a position on Net neutrality, but we do believe that hastily applying old thinking and old laws to the Internet will do more harm than good,” he said.

itham@sph.com.sg