Singapore regulator, the Infocomm Development Agency (IDA), recently introduced a series of bold, even radical, measures to protect local mobile service consumers. The usual suspects – premium rate services (PRS) and data roaming featured, but IDA also launched a review of its Quality of Service (QoS) framework for mobile telephone services with a view to raise the standards for mobile QoS indicators such as service coverage, success rate and drop call rate.
Consumers now have the option to block third-party PRS providers and their subsequent bills by opting for a barring service that operators will have to provide. Under the PRS barring service, a consumer will not be able to send or receive any chargeable PRS. â€˜Accidentalâ€™ subscription to any service will also not be billed, but who knows how that will be determined? The IDA has given operators until the first quarter of 2012 to comply.
Mobile operators will also be required to provide an option for consumers to limit their data roaming usage in a monthly billing cycle to SG$100, no doubt a move to minimize â€˜bill shock.â€™ From July this year, mobile operators will have to obtain explicit consent from their subscribers before providing any roaming services (including data roaming services), which may currently be available by default to mobile subscribers.
They will also be required to explicitly direct consumers to the prices, terms and conditions of the roaming services to ensure that consumers can make an informed choice on whether or not to subscribe for such services.
Consumers will also be able to limit their data roaming usage in any single monthly billing cycle to no more than SG$100. Operators are expected to implement such a service by the first quarter of 2012.
In response to consumer complaints about mobile broadband speeds being offered in plans against what is actually achieved (a problem not unique to Singapore), the IDA has decided that operators providing broadband services must publish the typical speeds that consumers can expect to experience. The publication parameters have not yet been set but the IDA is planning to talk to all operators to decide on methodology. That could be a long and interesting discourse as there are so many variables involved. One things is certain, consumers are feeling deceived by committing to plans with speeds that they rarely experience.
However, notwithstanding these measures, IDA points out that consumers still have a part to play in exercising due care and diligence to understand the prices, terms and conditions of any service before they subscribe to it. Presuming, of course, that these are provided in â€˜plain languageâ€™ that most people can understand.
While the IDA has established these new requirements, the agency has left it to the operators to work out the specific implementation methods and to supplement them with additional consumer protection measures commercially, if they wish to do so. However, the fact that the regulator has had to step in here, as it has another markets, indicates that mobile operators have not been willing, or able, to adopt voluntary measures to protect their own customers. Will the telecoms industry ever reach a level of maturity where it could be self-regulating, or even unregulated? Current indications are that it’s doubtful.
Regulation and compliance leads to a vicious circle, and telcos have allowed themselves to become trapped in it. Telco incumbents got used to the idea that doing what they were told = doing what was right, with no need to go beyond what they were told. That idea persisted through liberalization, so that most telcos think like the incumbents did, and few see an advantage in doing more than the minimum. In turn, this encourages the people working at regulators to justify their existence, by looking for new regulations that are needed, and new ways to enforce compliance with the old regulations that are failing. This in turn creates jobs in the telcos for people who get paid solely to comply with regulations. It’s a rare person that finds reasons to eliminate their own job, so compliance-oriented staff often end up working with the regulator, sometimes against the interests of the telco, on ways to increase the compliance burden. And then means the telco’s starting position – that it’s not worth doing more than you are obliged to – ends up reinforced and we all go round the cycle again…