MDA proposes tougher rules, more consumer protection for pay-TV services

September 25th, 2014 | by Alfred Siew
MDA proposes tougher rules, more consumer protection for pay-TV services
Source: iStock

Source: iStock

If your pay-TV operator raises prices or drops programmes or channels you have subscribed to in future, you may just be able to tear up the contract and not face any penalty for the early termination.

That is one of a number of recommendations revealed yesterday by Singapore’s media regulator to provide more protection to consumers.

If ratified, the new rules will give more power to TV viewers, who currently have little recourse even if a pay-TV operator changes important details such as prices or content provided.

The Media Development Authority (MDA) is seeking feedback from the public on these new rules that could put an end to pay-TV operators making use of broadly-worded clauses in contracts to give them the leeway to make such changes.

Singapore consumers have been angered of late by changes made by pay-TV operators to their service plans.

In 2012, SingTel told its subscribers to start paying S$10 more for Champions League matches which were once part of its basic football package of programmes. Last year, it also raised subscription rates for fans watching the popular Barclays Premier League.

Separately, in January 2013, rival StarHub increased the cost for its sports package from S$12 to S$19 a month, though it did add new channels to the lineup.

If the new rules are in place, viewers may have the option of cutting their subscriptions early without paying a penalty.

Ultimately, this could put pay-TV operators more on their toes. If they can no longer change prices or programme lineups without risking a loss of subscribers, they might just think twice before bringing out a worse deal to customers.

Among its other proposals, the MDA also wants to prevent retailers from forcing subscribers to upgrade, say, a broadband service when they want to make changes to a pay-TV service.

So, if you want to change your sports package, the telecom operator cannot make you pay more for a broadband service to help it cover its costs of acquiring expensive TV content.

That is an important move by the regulator to close up loopholes in the system. It will go hand-in-hand with the cross carriage ruling to discourage the likes of SingTel from bidding extraordinary amounts to secure exclusive TV content and crawl back some of the costs through more profitable services like broadband.

Tougher rules only go so far, of course. Corrections in the market may yet bring more enduring changes to Singapore’s long distorted pay-TV market.

Competition in fibre broadband services has led to drastically cheaper prices that now make it more attractive to “de-couple” a household’s services from one single telecom operator.

For example, users can buy a cheap broadband service from, say, M1 or MyRepublic at just S$39 a month, then sign up for a SingTel or StarHub pay-TV service a la carte style, instead of consolidating a “triple play” of broadband, pay-TV and phone services in one provider.

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