Soon: New way to settle telco disputes

A woman walking past the M1 logo on March 15.
A woman walking past the M1 logo on March 15.PHOTO: ST FILE

Independent organisation will be appointed to hear cases under proposed scheme

Have a problem with your phone bill, but don't want to butt heads with your telco or take the matter to court? Another option may soon be coming your way.

The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) has proposed a new Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme to help customers of telcos resolve their problems with billing, contracts, service quality and compensation.

The proposal is part of several revisions MCI wants to make to existing laws that govern telcos and media service providers.

The regulatory changes are outlined in a consultation paper released yesterday.

Every year, for the past three years, mobile phone, broadband and pay-TV subscribers have been filing more than 340 billing and contract-related complaints, said MCI.

Consumers can turn to the courts and Small Claims Tribunal, but the costs may be high. The Infocomm Development Authority and the Media Development Authority also hear such cases. "But they do not mandate the form of remedies or corrective actions that service providers must offer to consumers," according to the consultation paper.

The ADR scheme - modelled after those in Australia, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom - aims to change this. The new law would allow consumers to pay significantly less to force telcos to come to the table for settlement. Exact mechanics and fees have yet to be worked out.

An independent organisation will be appointed to hear cases and help both parties settle their disputes. Adjudication may be considered at a later stage.

The Consumers Association of Singapore said it will consider taking on the role of hearing cases. "Telcos will have to participate in ADR when direct negotiations fail," said its executive director, Mr Seah Seng Choon, adding that on many occasions, telcos have turned down consumers' request to participate in mediation.

All three telcos - Singtel, StarHub and M1 - said they are still reviewing details of the proposals. The consultation ends at noon on Aug 24.

Other proposed changes include mandating rent-free rooftop space for installing telecom equipment and prohibiting building owners from tying up exclusively with any player for fixed-line telephony or broadband services and denying tenants their choice of telcos.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2016, with the headline 'Soon: New way to settle telco disputes'. Print Edition | Subscribe