StarHub’s bid to charge for 4G blocked

SINGAPORE — The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) has stopped StarHub’s move to charge for 4G services from June, and announced that customers of other telcos will also not have to pay extra for the remainder of their existing contracts.

In addition, new regulatory requirements will be drawn up to place the onus on telcos to ensure customers are fully aware of key conditions in their contracts before they sign on the dotted line, said IDA Deputy Chief Executive Leong Keng Thai, on Channel NewsAsia’s Talking Point programme last night.

In a statement yesterday, the IDA said its investigations found that there was still “significant” confusion among consumers about the plans they signed up for. This is despite the three telcos — M1, SingTel and StarHub — positioning 4G services as value-added services in their promotional materials and service terms and conditions.

Although “all the necessary notifications are captured in writing in one form or another” by the three telcos, there is room for improvement at the point of sale, noted Mr Leong.

“We’ll be working on improving and tightening those procedures at the point of sale to ensure consumers are fully aware and we’ll make it a regulatory requirement,” he said on the programme.

Noting that the Telecoms Competition Code requires telcos to communicate key terms and conditions to customers prior to service sign-up, the IDA said in its statement: “Telecoms operators should not change prices mid-way that affect customers with minimum term contracts, if they were not clear to customers upfront what those price changes might be.

“The IDA has clarified the matter with the three operators. All operators have since decided not to change 4G service prices for existing customers with minimum term contracts,” it said.

The IDA may look at good practices in other sectors where certain clauses are highlighted to customers, who may then be asked to acknowledge that they have been informed.

Said Mr Leong: “So, basically, we want the telcos to highlight or even produce a simpler sort of summary with those key (terms) that may affect conditions … halfway and make sure consumers know exactly what they are signing up for.”

Last week, some consumers were up in arms after StarHub announced that its SmartSurf subscribers would have to pay S$2.14 a month from June for the hitherto-free 4G Speed Boost service. The telco said the service had been provided free to customers under a promotion introduced two years ago, was scheduled to expire last year but was extended till May 31.

SingTel’s website states that its 4G Value Added Service will remain free until “a date SingTel determines”, while M1 told TODAY its 4G service prices were being reviewed, with its website stating the service would remain free until December.

On the Talking Point programme, editor Alfred Siew said consumers became irate because they did not expect costs to be added later or for discounts to be taken away. The bigger question is whether the market is becoming more or less competitive than before, he added.

Responding to media queries last night, StarHub Senior Vice-President of Mobility, Chan Kin Hung, said: “After careful consideration, we decided to further extend the free promotion to existing customers … till the end of their contracts.”

He added: “With regard to this promotion, we have been upfront with customers. Details of this service, including pricing and promotion expiry, have been made available in our sales and marketing materials as well as on our website since its introduction in September 2012.”

A SingTel spokesman said its policy — even before the IDA’s latest announcement — is for changes to price plans or promotions to apply only if customers choose to renew or sign up for a new contract. Ample advance notice is provided when promotions change or end, he said.

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