[channel news asia] Consumers can expect a better deal when they next sign a contract with a telecom operator such as SingTel, StarHub or M1.
Starting 21 January, it will be harder for these companies to penalise consumers if they breach their contract with the telcos.
Under the revised Telecom Competition Code, telecom operators cannot "cross-terminate" a consumer's agreement.
This means that if a consumer has a cable TV and mobile contract with a telco, and the consumer dispute charges for the cable TV contract, for example, the telco cannot threaten to terminate the consumer's mobile contract or vice versa.
This is applicable to all contracts, except for those sold under a single bundle or offered under the same service agreement, for example, if a telco offers a free fixed line when a consumer subscribes to cable TV as a bundled service. The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) said consumers' right to enjoy a basic telephone service will also be protected unless there is a breach of the agreement of the telephone service itself.
In addition, under the new law, telcos will no longer be allowed to automatically charge consumers once a free trial service has ended.
Telcos need to get consumers to agree first before charging them. Currently, such terms and conditions are buried in the fine print of a service contract.
IDA said consumers often end up being charged for services which they are unaware of. It said: "This requirement was introduced due to increasing number of complaints received by IDA from consumers. IDA's intent is not to stop the free trials, which could be beneficial to consumers, but to ensure that licensees keep consumers clearly informed upfront of the terms of any free trial services and when charging will begin, and to obtain the consumers' express agreement to subscribe to the service to minimise disputes".
These changes are part of regular reviews conducted by IDA.
The last review was done in 2005.
Leong Keng Thai, IDA's Deputy Chief Executive and Director-General (Telecoms & Post) said: "IDA reviews its codes and guidelines periodically to ensure that they would be effective and relevant with the times.
"We hope this Code, revised following its second review, will continue to protect consumers' interests, facilitate market entry and police anti-competitive behaviour."
Responding to queries from Channel NewsAsia, SingTel and StarHub said they are reviewing the changes.
A StarHub spokesperson said: "As StarHub operates in a competitive environment, being customer-focused is always a key priority for us. With regard to the topic of charging after a free trial, we would like to note that we do not charge our customers after a free trial of their service has ended, unless we have obtained consent from them.
"The current Telecoms Code already contains a requirement that 'the end user will not be required to pay for any telecommunication service that the end user did not consent to receiving". As for the other changes to the Code, we are currently reviewing them."
A SingTel spokesman said: "We provided our views during the course of the IDA's public consultation process, and we shall review the revisions to the Telecom Competition Code."
Better consumer protection with revised Telecom Competition Code