Parliament: Bill passed to give telecoms regulator wider power towards better telco services

People look at mobile handsets at a Singtel retailer shop in Singapore.
People look at mobile handsets at a Singtel retailer shop in Singapore. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Singapore's telecoms regulator can now direct telcos and building owners to resolve their disputes over the installation of telecoms equipment with the passing of a Bill in Parliament.

Disputes have consistently surfaced as building owners here are reluctant to provide space to the three local telcos - Singtel, StarHub and M1 - for such installations, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim told the House on Thursday (Nov 10).

The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) receives some 30 objections by building owners every year, he said in reply to Mr Louis Ng, MP for Nee Soon GRC, during the debate in Parliament.

"IMDA has faced many practical challenges with building managers that have delayed timely deployments in the buildings they manage," he said during the second reading of the Telecommunications (Amendment) Bill.

Such delays affect mobile signal coverage and quality not just for users in the building, but also neighbouring buildings due to Singapore's "dense urban environment".

Greater regulatory oversight is needed, he said.

The Bill sets out ways in which IMDA can direct building owners to cooperate, including providing rent-free rooftop space for installing telecom equipment.

The Telecommunications Act was last reviewed in 2012.

Dr Yaacob also noted instances where end users may not have the freedom to access the telco services of their preferred operator, which "should not be the case" in a liberalised sector.

The Bill also addresses this, allowing IMDA to prohibit building owners from tying up exclusively with any player for telecommunications services that could deny tenants their choice of telcos.

Even if an exclusive agreement had been signed, it can be breached as directed by IMDA if deemed to be working against the public's interest.

The most high-profile exclusive arrangement is that between locally-based wireless firm Consistel and the Sports Hub.

Consistel exclusively hosts the Sports Hub's wireless systems, including 3G and 4G equipment. It then leases the use of the equipment to the three local mobile operators: Singtel, StarHub and M1.

But the telcos could not reach a deal with Consistel in 2014 that had threatened to leave the Sports Hub without any mobile coverage for its June opening that year.

Dr Yaacob assured the House that IMDA will be "reasonable, prudent and circumspect in the application of these powers" narrowly applying them to specific contractual clauses.

The Bill also contains a provision for a new Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme to help customers of telcos resolve their problems with billing, contracts, service quality and compensation. It lets consumers pay significantly less than turning to the courts or Small Claims Tribunal to force telcos to come to the table for settlement.

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