Media authority merger timely

The line that once separated the telephone from the television set is almost non-existent today. Now, people watch movies and TV shows on a mobile phone. Convergence has taken place in the palm of your hand.

This is why the merger of the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) and the Media Development Authority (MDA) is significant.

The formation of the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) in the second half of this year is even considered long overdue by some market observers as the use of smartphones here had taken off as early as 2008.

The IDA looked after the regulatory and promotional aspects of telecommunications services, including the sale of mobile handsets, while the MDA oversaw content on traditional media such as television.

Such segregation is outdated. So are the two sectors' regulatory frameworks, which hold local brick- and-mortar firms to far stricter rules than foreign Internet players such as Apple iTunes, Google Play and Netflix, which have set up e-video stores here. As Mr John Goeres, Deloitte South-east Asia's industry leader of technology, media and telecommunications, says, they come here "unregulated".

They need not pay for a licence, unlike telcos and pay-TV operators Singtel and StarHub.

"They do not have quality-of-service and security obligations to the customer, or service roll-out and employment obligations to the authorities," said Mr Goeres.

Lawyers and companies in the sectors expect the biggest benefit from the merger of the authorities to be the streamlining of laws to ensure fairness to all.

The IMDA will look into amending current legislation such as the Broadcasting Act, Telecommunications Act and Films Act.

It has its work cut out for it and it will not be easy to satisfy everyone. But the merger is a good start.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2016, with the headline 'Media authority merger timely'. Print Edition | Subscribe