ISPs may have to offer free Net filtering tools for mobile devices, PCs to parents

A computer user looking at the social-networking website Facebook. Internet service providers (ISPs) may soon have to offer Internet filtering tools for free to their broadband and mobile subscribers under new rules proposed by the Media Develop
A computer user looking at the social-networking website Facebook. Internet service providers (ISPs) may soon have to offer Internet filtering tools for free to their broadband and mobile subscribers under new rules proposed by the Media Development Authority (MDA). -- BH FILE PHOTO: M.O. SALLEH

Internet service providers (ISPs) may soon have to offer filtering tools for free to their broadband and mobile subscribers under new proposed regulations.

This is part of the Media Development Authority's (MDA) plans to better promote parental controls even as access to information has become easier with the popularity of mobile devices.

Ms Koh Lin-Net, MDA chief executive officer, said: "We didn't want cost to become a deterrent to decision makers."

Filtering tools can help parents block their children's access to objectionable sites. Filtering services provided by ISPs typically cost $2 to $5 a month.

Additional features - such as monthly reports on the websites visited - may still come at a cost, according to MDA's consultation documents released Monday on its website.

The media regulator is also seeking the public's view on whether they prefer an opt-out option, where parental controls are switched on by default. This is similar to legislation in Japan and Britain to protect the young.

However, MDA thinks that an opt-out measure will be "burdensome" on ISPs and will "lull parents into a false sense of security". The better alternative is for ISPs to get an explicit decision from consumers on whether they want parental controls at the point of signing or renewing a broadband or mobile contract.

"By consciously signing off on something, parents can remember better," said Ms Koh, adding that a "low" awareness of the availability of Web filtering tools is a problem today. This has resulted in the "low" 100,000 subscriptions to these tools. This is despite earlier efforts to get ISPs to market filtering tools more aggressively to consumers.

The MDA has since February 2012 required ISPs like SingTel, StarHub, M1 and MyRepublic to "actively promote" Internet filtering tools to consumers who purchase or renew fixed broadband subscriptions.

The mandatory requirement was extended to mobile subscriptions in June 2012 as access to information, including harmful type, has become easier with the popularity of mobile devices.

If found flouting its rules, the MDA may impose a fine or suspend or cancel the ISP's class licence. MDA said it has not warned any ISP for flouting these rules so far.