Rule changes to prevent unfair pay-TV practices

Measures address unilateral changes, forced upgrades and lack of awareness of terms

Pay-TV consumers will soon be given the choice of shorter, 12-month contracts for packages or bundles.

Customers will also be able to cancel their contracts early without paying a penalty if the service provider increases subscription fees or removes important content.

These are some of the changes recommended to the Media Market Conduct Code that the Media Development Authority (MDA) announced yesterday to guard against unfair pay-TV practices.

The changes, which are expected to take effect next month, address three areas of consumer concerns: unilateral contract changes, forced upgrades of non-pay-TV services, and lack of awareness of the contracts' terms and conditions.

The proposed changes will make it possible for consumers to exit their contracts within 30 days of the operators making changes to pricing or programming.

This applies to increased subscription fees or material content being removed - especially if it is a factor in persuading consumers to sign up for pay-TV, such as English Premier League coverage.

Under new proposals, pay-TV operators will also not be allowed to force subscribers to upgrade non-pay-TV services, such as Internet broadband or phone service contracts, to make changes to pay-TV services.

Consumers will also get the option of a shorter, one-year contract period.

Housewife Maria Tan, 48, said the shorter contract period will give her greater flexibility in her choice of channels. "This way, I won't have to spend money on another year if I decide to stop watching channels in the package," she added.

These changes follow a public consultation held from September to November 2014 with pay-TV operators, content providers, consumer and industry associations, and members of the public.

The last time that changes were made to the code for pay-TV consumer protection was in 2011, when early-termination charges were pro-rated to the time left on the contract.

Under the new proposals, pay-TV operators will also not be allowed to force subscribers to upgrade non-pay-TV services, such as Internet broadband or phone service contracts, to make changes to pay-TV services.

Consumers will be better informed as operators will be required to provide them with a critical information summary that highlights important terms and conditions clearly and accurately. In addition, the operators will need to send a written copy of the contract and summary within 14 days of contracting to them.

Operators will also have to obtain consumers' consent to continue with any trial or complimentary service before they can start charging for them, instead of automatically charging them if they fail to opt out.

Pay-TV operators here say they are considering how to implement these changes.

"We are reviewing the proposed amendments and virtually all of our pay-TV plans have been available to our customers on 12-month contracts for some years now," said a Singtel spokesman.

A StarHub spokesman said: "We are studying the decision and are reviewing the implementation issues it may raise."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2016, with the headline 'Rule changes to prevent unfair pay-TV practices'. Print Edition | Subscribe