From 1 July 2011, mobile operators will have to obtain explicit consent from subscribers before providing any roaming services which may currently be available
Consumers will be better protected against mobile bill shocks under new regulations to prevent unwanted charges caused by Premium Rate Services (PRS) and data roaming. Under the new measures announced by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) in March 2011, operators are required to provide consumers with the option of a PRS barring service which will be free when activated for the first time. They will also be required to give consumers the option of limiting their data roaming usage in a monthly billing cycle to S$100.
The PRS barring service is expected to be introduced by the first quarter of 2012, giving mobile operators sufficient lead-time to iron out implementation and service provisioning details. Once activated, the consumer will not be able to subscribe to or receive any chargeable PRS, or to be billed for them even in the event of accidental subscription. For example, parents will no longer have to worry about their children signing up for PRS without fully understanding them. To facilitate the provision of such a barring service, IDA will set aside a number to be used as a prefix for PRS.
With immediate effect, IDA will also impose heavier financial penalties for service providers that contravene the PRS Code, which was issued by IDA in 2007. Repeat offenders will have their licences suspended or cancelled. IDA also reserves the right to suspend or cancel a PRS provider’s licence at any time if warranted.
Three consumer protection measures are also being introduced to safeguard mobile subscribers from inadvertently incurring high data roaming charges when they use their smartphones overseas.
From 1 July 2011, mobile operators will have to obtain explicit consent from subscribers before providing any roaming services (including data roaming services) which may currently be available by default. They will also have to provide consumers with sufficient information to make an informed choice on these services.
Secondly, consumers will soon be able to limit their data roaming usage in any single monthly billing cycle to no more than S$100. From the first quarter of 2012, mobile operators have to offer a free data roaming service suspension option that caps data roaming usage at that amount.
Thirdly, consumers who do not wish to utilise any data roaming service while overseas can deactivate the service before they leave Singapore and reinstate it on their return. This service is expected to be implemented the first quarter of 2012.
“IDA expects that these measures will also help to reduce mobile ‘bill shocks’ and time-consuming disputes over charges, thus benefitting consumers, mobile operators and PRS providers in the long run,” said Mr Leong Keng Thai, Director-General (Telecoms & Post) of IDA. “However, notwithstanding these measures, 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,” he added.
Besides the new consumer protection measures, IDA is also looking to ensure an acceptable level of mobile service quality through a review of its Service (QoS) framework for 3G mobile operators. The revised framework will be announced once it is finalised.
In addition, IDA is working with Internet Access Service Providers to provide consumers with a more accurate indication of the typical download speeds they can expect when they subscribe to a particular broadband plan, instead of providing them with just the theoretical maximum download speed. IDA expects the operators to start publishing the typical download speeds by early 2012.
“Information transparency is also an important prong of our regulations in safeguarding consumer interests,” said Mr Leong. “With clearer information on the Internet broadband access speeds, consumers can make informed choices when choosing their broadband plans.”