Communications: regulation and outsourcing in Singapore: overview
A Q&A guide to communications regulation and outsourcing law in Singapore.
The Q&A gives a high level overview of communications law, including authorisation and licensing, universal service obligations, spectrum use, access and interconnection, data protection and security, price regulation, subscriber management, and outsourcing and telecommunications.
To compare answers across multiple jurisdictions, visit the Communications: Regulation and Outsourcing Country Q&A tool.
This Q&A is part of the Communications: Regulation and Outsourcing Global Guide. For a full list of jurisdictional Q&As visit www.practicallaw.com/communications-guide.
The telecommunications market
Singapore's telecommunications industry was fully liberalised on 1 April 2000. The limits on the number or type of licences were removed, except when there are physical or resource constraints. As a result of the technology-agnostic approach of the local telecommunications regulator, licensees are free to decide on the types of networks, systems, facilities and preferred technology platform to offer their services. The direct and indirect foreign equity limits formerly applicable to public telecommunications services licences were also removed.
Currently there are three main players in the market, namely M1, SingTel and StarHub. SingTel and StarHub are full service operators and provide a wide range of telecommunications services. Many other local and foreign telecommunications licensees have entered the market and are adding to a competitive landscape.
As of 1 October 2016, the former telecommunications regulator Info-Communication Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) and the former Media Development Authority (MDA) were restructured to form the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) and the Government Technology Agency (GovTech).
The merger was prompted by the converging infocomm and media sectors, which IMDA will be developing and regulating. GovTech will focus on public digital services and digital infrastructure in the public sector, and on meeting the resiliency and cybersecurity needs of Singapore's government infrastructure.
Transitional provisions were established under the Info-communications Media Development Authority Act 2016. Under the Act, the following (where issued or given by the former IDA under existing telecommunications legislation) will remain in force and be deemed to be issued by the new IMDA:
Codes of practice (including standards of performance).
Notices or other documents.
The former IDA (now IMDA) launched the Smart Nation Programme in November 2014. This seeks to harness information and communications technology networks and data, to support better living, create more opportunities, and support stronger communities. One initiative of is to explore a nationwide heterogeneous network (HetNet), to provide mobile users with the high-quality infrastructure that the Next Generation Nationwide Broadband Network has given to fixed-line users. M1 and Nokia announced on 19 August 2016 the progressive rollout of Singapore's first commercial HetNet deployment across hundreds of high-traffic hotspots nationwide.
Singapore's telecommunications scene is set to see the entry of a fourth telco. As of 1 September 2016, the former IDA (now IMDA) received formal Expressions of Interest from airYotta Pte Ltd, MyRepublic Limited and TPG Telecom Pte Ltd in respect of the 2016 spectrum auction in which a certain amount of spectrum would be set aside to facilitate the entrance of the fourth telco.
Restrictions on foreign ownership
There is no foreign equity limit on Singapore telecommunications licensees, and there is no restriction on foreign control or ownership of an operator of a telecommunications service. For example, a telecommunications licensee which is a Singapore incorporated company can be wholly owned by a foreign entity.
Generally, licensees must be either incorporated under or, if a foreign company, registered under the Singapore Companies Act (Cap 50). However, it is IMDA's practice to issue Facilities-Based Operator (FBO) licences only to companies incorporated in Singapore.
Legislation and regulatory authorities
All persons providing and operating telecommunications systems and services to customers in Singapore are subject to licensing regulation (section 5, Telecommunications Act). It is an offence to provide or operate telecommunications services to customers in Singapore without a licence (section 33, Telecommunications Act).
A telecommunication service is defined in the Telecommunications Act to mean any service for telecommunications, excluding any broadcasting service.
A telecommunication system means any system used or intended to be used for telecommunications, including (for the avoidance of doubt) a system capable of being used for operating a broadcasting service.
In addition to the Telecommunications Act, all licensees must comply with the obligations in their licence conditions and the Telecom Competition Code 2012.
Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) differentiates between facilities-based and service-based operations. These are represented by two types of licences:
Facilities-Based Operator(FBO) licence.
Services-Based Operator (SBO) licence.
Licence applications are assessed and granted on their merits:
Facilities-based operations refer to the deployment and/or operation of a telecommunication network, systems and/or facilities, by any person, to provide telecommunication and/or broadcasting services outside its own property boundaries to third parties. Third parties can include other licensed telecommunication operators, business customers, or the general public.
An SBO Licence is required where operators intend, among other things, to lease telecommunication network elements (such as transmission capacity and switching services) from an FBO to provide their own telecommunication services, or to resell the telecommunication services of FBOs to third parties. SBO Licences fall under two categories:
the SBO (Individual) Licence category, where individual licensing is required for the stipulated types of operations and services;
the SBO (Class) Licence category, where interested parties are only required to register with IMDA before providing the stipulated types of services.
IMDA is the telecommunications regulatory authority tasked with administering and overseeing telecommunications licensing compliance. It is also the regulator for telecommunications competition issues (for example, those arising from the Telecoms Competition Code).
Authorisation and licences
The licences required to provide telecommunications services are generally the Facilities-Based Operator (FBO) Licence and Services-Based Operator (SBO Licence (see Question 3). The licence application procedures and fees differ according to the type of licence.
An applicant must apply to the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA). The IMDA will assess the applicant's proposals based on factors such as:
The organisational structure and financial capability and strength of the applicant.
The commitments of the applicant in fulfilling its vision and plans.
Fees for an FBO Licence are calculated as a percentage of annual gross turnover (AGTO) of the licensed entity. For example, the fee for a typical FBO Licence is:
S$80,000 for the first S$50 million in AGTO.
0.8% AGTO for the next S$50 to S$100 million of AGTO.
1% AGTO, for above S$100 million in AGTO.
The fees vary depending on the licensee's designation as well as the services it will provide. A successful applicant will generally be awarded its licence within four weeks of submitting the application.
Individual licence. Successful applicants for the SBO (Individual) Licence are awarded their licence within 14 working days of submitting the application, provided that all necessary information requested by the IMDA for evaluation purposes has been submitted and the IMDA has completed all clarifications with the applicant.
As part of the licence application, applicants must provide details such as:
System configurations and operations.
Descriptions of services to be offered.
Relevant supporting documents, including network diagrams.
Fees are calculated as a percentage of AGTO of the licensed entity:
S$4,000 for the first S$50 million in AGTO.
0.5% AGTO for the next S$50 to S$100 million in AGTO.
0.8% AGTO for above S$100 million in AGTO.
Class licence. The licensee is generally registered on submission of complete and accurate information and payment of registration fees (if any). Registration fees are generally a flat one-time payment fee of up to S$200 for any number of class-licensed services, except for certain services where no fees are payable.
The conditions and duration of a telecommunications licence vary, depending on the type of licence.
Usual conditions common to Facilities-Based Operator (FBO) and Services-Based Operator (SBO) (Individual) Licences include obligations to:
Provide access to other licensees.
Interconnect with other licensees.
Preserve the confidentiality of subscriber information.
In relation to the validity of licences, generally:
An FBO Licence is valid for 15 years (renewable for such period as IMDA thinks fit, subject to terms and conditions that Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) can specify under section 5 of the Telecommunications Act) unless suspended or cancelled by IMDA in accordance with the licence terms.
An SBO (Class) Licence is valid indefinitely, unless cancelled in accordance with the Telecommunications Act or by IMDA under the Telecommunications (Class Licences) Regulations. IMDA can (among other things) cancel the licence if the licence holder notifies IMDA that it has ceased to be an operator of the licensed services.
An SBO (Individual) Licence is valid for five years (renewable on a five-yearly basis, subject to terms and conditions that IMDA can specify under section 5 of the Telecommunications Act) unless suspended or cancelled by IMDA in accordance with the licence terms.
Conditions generally cannot be varied by the licensee.
For SBO (Class) Licences, IMDA can waive the application of all or any of the provisions of the Telecommunications (Class Licences) Regulations or the licence, at its discretion.
For FBO Licences and SBO (Individual) Licences, IMDA can vary or amend any of the terms and conditions of the licence by giving the licensee at least one month's prior written notice.
FBO Licences are available for public inspection, though commercially sensitive details and/or schedules are omitted.
SBO (Individual) Licences are not available for public inspection, although a template licence is available.
The terms of SBO (Class) Licences are contained in the Telecommunications (Class Licences) Regulations, which are publicly available.
Penalties for non-compliance
The following are some examples of the consequences of non-compliance:
It is an offence for any person to establish, install, maintain, provide or operate a telecommunication system or service in Singapore without a licence (section 33, Telecommunications Act). The penalty on conviction is a fine up to S$100,000 or imprisonment for up to three years, or both, and in the case of a continuing offence, a further fine up to S$10,000 for every day or part of it during which the offence continues after conviction.
Instead of prosecuting the offence, the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) also has power to compound an offence, by collecting from a person reasonably suspected of having committed the offence a sum up to S$5,000 (section 64, Telecommunications Act).
The type and likelihood of enforcement action taken by IMDA generally depends on the severity of the breaches and the facts and circumstances of each case.
Licences also contain provisions setting out IMDA's powers if the licensee breaches the licence. For example:
Under a Facilities-Based Operator Licence, if the licensee breaches any licence condition, IMDA can fine the licensee under section 8 of the Telecommunications Act. IMDA can also forfeit any monies payable under a performance bond (condition 6, FBO Licence).
Under an Services-Based Operator (SBO) (Individual) Licence IMDA can, on occurrence of an event specified in section 8 of the Telecommunications Act, either:
issue a written order and/or impose a financial penalty on the licensee; or
suspend and/or cancel the licence in whole or part, and/or reduce the period for which the licence is to be in force, under section 8 of the Telecommunications Act.
For SBO (Class) Licensees, in addition to general penalties under section 8 of the Telecommunications Act, it is an offence to provide any false, misleading or inaccurate information to IMDA in relation to its registration (Telecommunications (Class Licences) Regulations).
IMDA's powers under section 8 of the Telecommunications Act are wide. They include powers to issue written orders to licensees and impose a financial penalty up to the higher of 10% of the licensee's turnover or S$1 million, if the licensee breaches its obligations, including:
Conditions under its licence.
Certain sections of the Telecommunications Act.
Codes of practice (for example, the Telecoms Competition Code).
IMDA also has powers to cancel, suspend or reduce the term of licences if it is satisfied of various matters (for example, that the licensee is again likely to contravene relevant regulations, or has failed to pay financial penalties). Failure to comply with such orders is an offence.
A telecommunications licensee can appeal, within 14 days of receipt or issue (section 69, Telecommunications Act):
An Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) decision made under the Telecommunications Act.
A provision in a code of practice or standard of performance, or in an IMDA direction made under certain sections of the Telecommunications Act.
The licensee can request the IMDA to reconsider the matter, or appeal to the Minister for Communications and Information. A person who is not a telecommunications licensee but who is aggrieved by IMDA decisions under certain sections of the Telecommunications Act or certain codes of practice issued under the Telecommunications Act can do the same. A person cannot make a reconsideration request to the IMDA and an appeal to the Minister about the same matter.
There is a further right of appeal within 14 days of receipt of IMDA's determination of a reconsideration request. A decision made by the Minister in relation to such appeals is final.
Universal service obligations
"Dominant Licensees", as defined in the Telecoms Competition Code, are subject to specific regulations restricting the unfettered exercise of significant market power (Telecoms Competition Code).
Dominant Licensees are presumed to have significant market power unless otherwise exempted. For example, a licensee with significant market power cannot use its dominant position in that market in a manner that unreasonably restricts, or is likely to unreasonably restrict, competition in any telecommunication market in Singapore (section 8.2, Telecoms Competition Code).
The Telecoms Competition Code contains various obligations requiring licensees to provide universal non-discriminatory services to customers and other licensees. For example, a Dominant Licensee (section 18.104.22.168, Telecoms Competition Code):
Must provide services to customers at prices, terms and conditions that are not discriminatory.
Must not discriminate in favour of itself, an affiliate, or any other related entity in the provision of any service that it provides under an effective tariff.
A licence condition is imposed on "Public Telecommunication Licensees" which can be seen as a universal service obligation. The condition provides that the licensee is to establish, install, maintain and operate telephone systems and provide basic telephone services to any person in Singapore who requests the provision of such service, where the licensee has rolled out its local access network. Examples of entities designated as Public Telecommunications Licensees are Singapore Telecommunications Ltd and StarHub Ltd.
To maintain structural separation of networks, the Next Generation Nationwide Broadband Network (NGNBN) requires structural and operational separation of the relevant:
NetCo (the company designing, building and operating passive infrastructure, such as dark fibre and ducts).
OpCo (the company providing wholesale network services over active infrastructure, comprising switches and transmission equipment).
Both the NetCo and OpCo are under universal service obligations to fulfil all reasonable requests for service.
The Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore can also require applicants for a telecommunications consolidation to agree that a post-consolidation entity will conduct certain operations through a structurally separate entity (section 10.5.3, Telecoms Competition Code).
Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) manages the radio frequency spectrum. IMDA is in charge of:
Planning and co-ordinating frequency usage at international, regional and sub-regional levels.
Allocating and assigning the spectrum nationally.
Monitoring and resolving radio frequency interference.
IMDA regulates spectrum use through:
Market-based allocation (for example, auctions of spectrum bands).
IMDA formulates the frequency assignment criteria for each service where assignment of spectrum is based on the administrative allocation approach. IMDA has adopted an auction process for allocating spectrum for certain services such as the 2G, 3G, 4G and wireless broadband access (WBA) services.
In Singapore, frequency co-ordination between neighbouring countries is achieved through the:
Frequency Assignment Committee of Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam (FACSMAB).
Trilateral Coordination Meeting between Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Border Communication Coordination Meeting (BCCM) between Singapore and Indonesia.
The frequency co-ordination requires close co-ordination between neighbouring countries, and pre-empts interference resulting from overlapping frequency bands. For example, at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) level, there is co-ordination between member countries on an agreed timeframe to transition from analogue television to digital free-to-air television by 2020.
The Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) has the power to grant spectrum rights (unconditionally, or subject to conditions, and irrevocably or subject to revocation) (section 5A(1), Telecommunications Act).
Mobile network spectrum rights are usually issued by auction to the three major mobile network operators (MNOs) in Singapore (M1, SingTel and StarHub). Each MNO has its own spectrum, which it generally uses exclusively.
IMDA regulates each MNO's use of spectrum allocated to it through terms and conditions in the spectrum right grant document. This document contains a condition titled Spectrum Sharing. This prohibits the MNO from authorising any person or persons to operate a radio-communication station and/or network within the assigned radio frequency spectrum, except with the prior approval of the IMDA and in accordance with the:
Telecommunications Act, the IMDA Act, and the Telecommunications (Radio-communication) Regulations.
Rules and procedures relating to spectrum sharing published by IMDA from time to time.
The former IDA (now IMDA) has also published a Spectrum Management Handbook, which provides information on spectrum allocation in Singapore. IMDA states in the Handbook that MNOs must not share the use of frequencies among the high power island-wide networks (for example, by allowing another company to operate radio equipment using the same frequencies). However, due to the potential for interference it allows mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) to obtain access to spectrum already allocated to MNOs, through commercial wholesale arrangements.
The former IDA (now IMDA) held a public consultation in April 2014 calling for public feedback on MVNO arrangements. This also sought views on the feasibility of MVNOs entering the market, and whether the former IDA (now IMDA) should require MNOs to host MVNOs.
Spectrum can also be re-farmed. In June 2015, IMDA approved the three major telcos' request to shut down their 2G networks by 1 April 2017, so that the freed-up spectrum could be reused for 3G and 4G services.
Infrastructure and network management
Communications providers generally have powers to place their equipment on third party sites. Developers and owners of buildings or developments must provide adequate space and facilities for the deployment and operation of installation and plant equipment for telecommunications (Code of Practice for Info-communication Facilities in Buildings (2013) (COPIF)). Such space is shared between Facilities-Based Operators as licensees. The COPIF applies to any development that has been granted provisional or written permission for its construction by the competent authority under the Planning Act (Cap. 232), unless a waiver is granted by the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA).
Generally, the costs of providing such space are borne by the developers and owners. The COPIF imposes duties on the developers or owner of land or a building, in relation to the space and facilities provided.
The COPIF also imposes certain regulations on licensees wishing to use the common space and facilities. In particular, mobile telecommunication licensees are allocated space to use mobile telecommunications equipment, and must share equally any space that exceeds their allocation.
Access and interconnection
Certain types of telecommunications licensees must provide other licensees with access to networks. Under the Telecoms Competition Code, the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) requires Dominant Licensees (usually Facilities-Based Operator (FBO) licensees) to provide interconnection and access-related services to facilities-based and service-based licensees, under their Reference Interconnection Offers (see Question 14).
In general, a telecommunications licensee is not required to share with its competitors the use of infrastructure that it controls. Instead, each licensee is expected to build or lease the use of the infrastructure that it requires.
FBO licensees are only required to share "Critical Support Infrastructure" as defined in the Telecoms Competition Code, which is determined at IMDA's discretion. IMDA can also require an FBO licensee to share the use of infrastructure with other FBO licensees, if it concludes that such sharing is in the public interest.
Certain infrastructure must also be shared:
Radio distribution systems for mobile coverage in train or road tunnels.
In-building cabling (where the occupant elects to take service from another service provider).
Lead-in ducts and associated manholes.
Radio towers (excluding towers used for the operation of a broadcasting service).
Generally, licensees have a duty to interconnect with other licensees. Interconnection obligations are imposed on licensees (sections 5 and 6, Telecoms Competition Code). Section 5 and section 6 (except for certain sub-sections) apply to non-dominant Services-Based Operator licensees that use switching or routing equipment to provide services to the public.
Interconnection can be direct or indirect. Interconnection agreements must be submitted to the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) for approval. Licensees can agree to interconnect on mutually agreeable terms, but must observe the minimum interconnection duties in the Telecoms Competition Code for interconnection agreements. IMDA does not generally involve itself in interconnection negotiations between non-Dominant Licensees.
Certain duties, such as to comply with mandatory technical standards and disclose information on interfaces, apply even where there is no interconnection agreement.
IMDA takes a more active role in ensuring just, reasonable and non-discriminatory interconnection agreements involving a Dominant Licensee.
There is an obligation on Dominant Licensees to provide interconnection related services and mandated wholesale services (as defined in the Telecoms Competition Code) to other licensees. Requesting licensees can interconnect with Dominant Licensees using any of the following:
Option 1: an approved "Reference Interconnection Offer".
Option 2: an existing interconnection agreement.
Option 3: an individual interconnection agreement.
IMDA also imposes substantive requirements relating to Reference Interconnection Offers issued by Dominant Licensees, such as:
Requiring the Reference Interconnection Offer to be clear, complete and modular.
An absolute prohibition on discrimination by the Dominant Licensee.
A list of Reference Interconnection Offers can be found at https://www.imda.gov.sg/regulations-licensing-and-consultations/frameworks-and-policies/interconnection-and-access.
IMDA imposes certain regulations in the Telecoms Competition Code for interconnection through Options 2 and 3 (see above) (section 6, Telecoms Competition Code).
Procedures such as the dispute resolution procedure with IMDA for individual interconnection agreements are also set out in the Telecoms Competition Code.
Once an interconnection agreement become effective, IMDA does not generally involve itself in the day-to-day implementation of the agreement.
IMDA will not step in to resolve disputes between non-Dominant Licensees, and these are generally privately enforced. Certain terms in the Telecoms Competition Code govern the modification, suspension or termination of interconnection agreements.
A more stringent standard applies where one party is a Dominant Licensee. Both parties can request IMDA to provide conciliation, and either party can request IMDA to resolve the dispute under its dispute resolution procedure (section 6.6, Telecoms Competition Code).
Data protection and security
The Telecoms Competition Code governs the handling of "End User Service Information" by licensees.
The definition of End User Service Information is very broad, and refers to all information that a licensee obtains due to the end user's use of a service provided by the licensee. This includes:
Information regarding the end user's usage patterns (including number of calls, times of calls, duration of calls and parties called).
The services used by the end user.
The end user's telephone number and network configuration.
The end user's location information.
The end user's billing name, address and credit history.
For the End User Service Information of business users, a licensee must adopt appropriate procedures to ensure that, unless a business end user has provided prior consent, the licensee will:
Not use End User Service Information of the business end user for any purpose other than six specified purposes (for example, planning requirements in relation to network operations, or network maintenance for any service it provides, excluding commercial activities such as business, market or product research, or development).
Not provide the End User Service Information to a third party (including its affiliates) for the purposes of developing and marketing goods or services.
For the End User Service Information of residential end users, irrespective of whether consent has been obtained, a licensee can collect, use or disclose the End User Service Information for three specified purposes (for example, collection or use reasonably necessary for planning requirements in relation to network operations or network maintenance, for a service it provides, excluding commercial activities such as business, market or product research, or development). The licensee must act in accordance with, or as permitted under, any applicable laws relating to the use of personal data for all other purposes.
There are additional data protection obligations for organisations in respect of personal data (Personal Data Protection Act (Act 26 of 2012) (effective 2 July 2014)). Under the Personal Data Protection Act, the collection, use and disclosure of personal data are subject to consent, unless statutory exceptions apply. Also, the Do-Not-Call provisions (effective 2 January 2014) under the Personal Data Protection Act restrict the sending of marketing messages to Singapore telephone numbers.
In practical terms, the licensee must comply with the Telecoms Competition Code and the Personal Data Protection Act in relation to retail customer data. However, the Personal Data Protection Act provides that other "written law" (including the Telecommunications Act, and potentially the Telecoms Competition Code) prevail if there is inconsistency.
An organisation cannot retain documents containing personal data, or the means by which personal data can be associated with particular individuals, after it is reasonable to assume that the purpose for which that personal data was collected is no longer being served by its retention, and retention is no longer necessary for legal or business purposes (section 25, Personal Data Protection Act).
In addition, certain licensees (such as Services-Based Operator Licensees for IP Telephony services, satellite mobile telephone and data services, and mobile virtual network operations) must maintain a register of their subscribers, including information on the name, address and nationality of the subscriber. IMDA usually requires Facilities-Based Operator Licensees to maintain a similar register for a prescribed period (typically, six months) after termination of the service.
The Telecommunications Act provides for various offences relating to the unauthorised interception of messages. For example, it is an offence for any person to fraudulently retain or wilfully divulge, make away with, or detain a message or record of a message which ought to have been delivered to another person (section 46(a), Telecommunications Act). Any unauthorised modification, interception or obstruction of computer materials or services, are also offences (Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act (Cap 50A)).
The Telecommunications Act provides that the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) and its licensees have a broad obligation to comply with the directions of the Minister for Communications and Information. These directions can include provisions for stopping, delaying and censoring messages, and carrying out any other purposes that the Minister thinks necessary. A telecommunications licensee who breaches such a direction is guilty of an offence and liable to fines on conviction.
IMDA also has broad powers to require any person to provide information it considers related to any matter relevant to its investigations, or for discharging its functions under the Telecommunications Act (section 59, Telecommunications Act).
IMDA's licensing rules also require a telecommunications licensee to maintain call detail records of all calls made and received through its telephony services operated and/or provided in Singapore.
Telecommunications licensees are usually also subject to a provision requiring co-operation of the licensee with law enforcement agencies to enhance necessary measures for public safety and security, including proper access to emergency services (if access to such services is provided) and the recording and verification of subscribers and resellers' details.
Generally, licensing conditions also require telecommunications licensees to:
Respect and ensure the confidentiality of subscriber information, except where disclosure of subscriber information is deemed necessary by IMDA or another relevant law enforcement or security agency to carry out their functions or duties.
Participate in any emergency activities or preparations for them in collaboration with other relevant agencies, organisations and government ministries and departments, in accordance with law, where directed by IMDA.
Police powers are wide enough to allow interception of telecommunications. For example, police officers or authorised persons can be authorised to access any information for the purposes of investigating an arrestable offence. This can extend to requesting access to such information from telecommunications service providers (Criminal Procedure Code 2010 (No. 15 of 2010)).
Non-compliance with lawful interception obligations can be a breach of licence conditions, or an offence.
Certain types of licensees are required to ensure network security. For example, mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) licensees must ensure that all electronic systems (including systems used by their authorised retailers) connected to and used for maintaining the registers of customers and retailers of prepaid SIM cards comply with the ISO/IEC 27002:2005 Code of Practice for Information Security Management. The Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) can require the licensee to comply with any other security requirements as necessary on the registers of customers and retailers of prepaid SIM cards.
IP Telephony licensees can be required by IMDA to comply with additional safety and security safeguards, to enhance security measures for public and national safety.
In applying for a Facilities-Based Operator Licence, applicants must provide IMDA with details of their Network Code of Practice, Security and Protection, including:
Network performance with an indication of the minimum standards.
Details of network security, IT/system security, and physical network protection.
The Telecoms Competition Code imposes certain duties on licensees to their end users, particularly in relation to charges. For example:
A duty on licensees to disclose prices, terms and conditions on which the licensee provides services to end users (section 3.2.2, Telecoms Competition Code).
A prohibition on disproportionate early termination charges (section 3.2.3, Telecoms Competition Code).
A prohibition on charges for unsolicited services (section 3.3.3, Telecoms Competition Code).
Services which have been provided to an end user on a free trial basis cannot be charged for unless certain conditions are met.
The Telecoms Competition Code sets out a procedure where an end user can contest charges that the end user reasonably believes to be incorrect.
In addition, there are general restrictions on anti-competitive strategies, including measures on price fixing/output restriction and resale price maintenance (section 9, Telecoms Competition Code).
Certain obligations on charges apply to Dominant Licensees. For example, wholesale services must be offered at prices, terms and conditions that are just, reasonable and non-discriminatory. Dominant Licensees are also required to file tariffs with the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) before offering certain services, including end user (for example, standardised services for residential or business customers), resale, and wholesale services. These tariffs are reviewed by IMDA, and must be published on the Dominant Licensee's website on providing the associated services.
In addition to the Telecoms Competition Code, a Code of Practice for Provision of Premium Rate Services also imposes duties on providers. These include:
A duty to disclose prices, terms and conditions.
A duty to charge only for content.
A duty not to charge for unsolicited content.
Billing network operators are also subject to certain duties under this Code.
In relation to data roaming charges, in 2011 the former IDA (now IMDA) directed mobile operators to comply with certain terms, for example to:
Obtain explicit consent from their subscribers before providing any roaming services (including data roaming services).
Offer a free data roaming service suspension option that caps data roaming usage.
Telephone number and subscriber management
The Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA)'s national numbering plan provides a set of rules and guidelines for the use and assignment of numbers to telecommunication services delivered over the public switched telephone network (PSTN), the radio network and the internet or other internet protocol (IP) based networks.
The numbering plan also covers the assignment of numbers to international services, trunk service, emergency services, and special services such as voicemail and intelligent network services.
Under the numbering plan, numbers are categorised in various services according to the first digit. The structure of the national number generally complies with the relevant International Telecommunication Union Standard Sector (ITU-T) Recommendations.
Access to such services must generally be provided by Facilities-Based Operator (FBO) licensees.
Generally, FBO licensees are under an obligation in their licence to ensure that any person through customer premises equipment and any person through its public payphones can, at any time without charge, contact:
The relevant police service (999 or its substitute number).
The fire and ambulance services (995 or its substitute number).
Any other national emergency services which the Minister for Communications and Information from time to time designates, to notify them of an emergency.
FBO licensees are also required to:
Ensure that it is possible for any person to contact at any time, without charge, distress, urgency and safety services for shipping, to notify them of an emergency.
Provide necessary facilities for distress, urgency and safety services, under the Radio Regulations of the International Telecommunications Union (subject to fair and proper payment by the relevant government ministry, department, statutory board or official agency).
FBO licensees must, on request, provide directory enquiry services to any person to whom it provides telecommunication services, based on an integrated customer database. The Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) can:
Require the FBO licensee to obtain IMDA's prior written approval for any charges it intends to levy for providing directory enquiry services.
Direct the FBO licensee to provide directory enquiry services for subscribers of other licensees.
IMDA can require FBO licensees to provide integrated directories for all subscribers, at no charge (except with the approval of IMDA) at annual intervals (or other interval agreed with IMDA). The FBO licensee must, if necessary, and subject to charges, terms and conditions agreed with other licensees, provide integrated directories for their subscribers. If agreement cannot be reached, the matter is determined by IMDA, whose decision is final.
Certain Services-Based Operator (SBO) licensees such as mobile virtual network operators licensees must ensure that any person can at any time and without charge contact, through functioning mobile terminal equipment, the relevant police, fire, ambulance and other national emergency service which the Minister for Communications and Information designates, to notify them of an emergency.
SBO licensees offering IP Telephony services with eight-digit numbers starting with "3" issued by IMDA or other E.164 telephone numbers issued by overseas administrators are not required to provide access to emergency services, directory enquiry and directory services. However, such licensees must inform customers on whether access to emergency service is provided. Licensees who do provide emergency services access must do so at no charge. IMDA has the right to require the provision of emergency call services, directory enquiry and directory services at a later stage, depending on market developments.
Generally such regulations are in the Telecoms Competition Code. For example, a licensee cannot switch an end user from one licensee's service to another without the end user's prior consent (section 3.2.5, Telecoms Competition Code). Licensees are not allowed to collect or retain payment from an end user for a service that the end user did not consent to receive. In such cases, the licensee that performed the unauthorised switching must also bear any cost necessary to switch the end user back to the original service provider.
Facilities-Based Operator licensees that provide mobile telephone services must implement number portability, subject to the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) requirements and charging principles.
Telecommunications licensees are required under the Telecoms Competition Code to make publicly available, in a format that can be easily understood by end users:
A report indicating the number and type of complaints that the licensee has received from its end users.
A statement on the extent to which the licensee has met all applicable quality of service standards issued by IMDA.
In addition, the Telecoms Competition Code prescribes procedures to contest charges, and requires licensees to:
Conduct a complete and objective review of an end user's complaint.
Provide a written response within 30 days of receiving notification that an end user is contesting a charge.
The Do-Not-Call Provisions of the PDPA aim to target unsolicited telemarketing calls and do not specifically address nuisance and silent calls, which may or may not be classified as "specified messages" defined in the PDPA. Some telecommunications service providers offer value-added services such as call blocking, caller ID or call tracing, which can be helpful in tracking nuisance calls.
Generally, telecommunications licensees must offer contracts to consumers in line with their obligations under the Telecoms Competition Code. In addition to the regulation of licensees' offerings to consumers (see Questions 20 and 21), certain other terms in section 3 of the Telecoms Competition Code apply.
For example, a licensee can only terminate an end user service agreement or suspend the provision of services to an end user (if the end user has breached a term or condition in the agreement) if the licensee has provided the end user with advance notice and a reasonable opportunity to remedy the breach, and the end user has failed to remedy the breach.
Without providing prior notice, end user service agreements can only be terminated, or services provided under it suspended in certain circumstances, such as where:
The end user has created, or is likely to create, imminent physical harm (such as interruption, disruption or congestion) to the licensee's network, or has defrauded the licensee.
The licensee is complying with a requirement of a relevant regulatory authority or law enforcement body.
Licensees must also include certain mandatory contractual obligations in their end user service agreements (sections 3.3.1 to 3.3.7, Telecoms Competition Code). An end user can bring private legal action against a licensee to enforce these obligations. In addition, the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) will treat a licensee's wilful, reckless, or repeated failure to fulfil these obligations as a breach of the Telecoms Competition Code. These obligations relate to, among other things:
The billing period.
The prices, terms and conditions on which services will be provided.
Termination or suspension of services by licensees.
The Telecoms Competition Code addresses net neutrality as a general principle. It provides certain baseline obligations which contribute to net neutrality. For example, the Telecoms Competition Code imposes a duty on licensees to interconnect with each other on certain minimum terms. This contributes to among other things reducing the chance of a telecoms licensee degrading another licensee's internet traffic, due to unreasonable or inadequate interconnection.
The Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) has no regulations specific to maintenance of net neutrality, but has announced (as the former IDA) its policy position through a paper (Decision issued by the Info-Communications Development Authority of Singapore: Net Neutrality, 16 June 2011). The paper was preceded by a public consultation by the former IDA (now IMDA) relating to net neutrality policies and approaches in Singapore. In its decision paper, the former IDA (now IMDA) laid out five key policy approaches:
No blocking of legitimate internet content. The former IDA (now IMDA) does not allow telecom network operators or ISPs to block legitimate internet content or impose "discriminatory practices, restrictions, charges or other measures" which would "effectively render any legitimate internet content inaccessible or unusable". In this context, legitimate content would refer to content not considered unlawful under local legislation and regulations.
Compliance with competition and interconnection rules. The former IDA (now IMDA) requires all telecom network operators or ISPs to comply with the competition and interconnection rules in the Telecoms Competition Code. The former IDA (now IMDA)'s belief is that the competition rules will help to "promote and preserve effective competition" in the internet access market, which will allow end users to switch ISPs if they feel their current ISP is restrictive in a way which erodes net neutrality. The interconnection rules will also ensure that no licensee degrades another licensee's telecoms services without legitimate justification.
Providing for information transparency. The former IDA (now IMDA) requires all telecom network operators or ISPs to provide information transparency as to "network management practices and typical internet broadband download speeds" (section 3.2.7, Telecoms Competition Code). All licensees must make available on their website a report indicating the number and type of complaints that the licensee has received from its end users and a statement as to the extent to which the licensee has met all applicable quality of service standards issued by the former IDA (now IMDA), to be updated at least once a year.
Meeting minimum Quality of Service (QoS) standards. The former IDA (now IMDA) requires all telecom network operators or ISPs to meet "minimum broadband QoS standards" that the former IDA (now IMDA) has prescribed. In addition, "reasonable network management practices" are allowed, provided that these minimum broadband QoS requirements are met, and that such practices will not render any legitimate internet content "effectively inaccessible or unusable".
Niche or differentiated internet services are allowed. The former IDA (now IMDA) allows telecom network operators or ISPs to offer niche or differentiated internet service offerings that meet the information transparency, minimum QoS and fair competition (including on interconnection) requirements of the former IDA (now IMDA).
IMDA (formerly IDA) believes that the above policy position will:
Facilitate consumers' access to content and services on the internet.
Provide flexibility for ISPs, network operators, manufacturers of platforms or devices, and internet companies and content providers to differentiate their services for economic efficiencies and innovation.
Outsourcing and telecommunications
Telecommunications licences generally allow the outsourcing of telecommunications services to third parties, subject to certain restrictions.
For example, in the template Services-Based Operator (Individual) Licence, section 23 regulates contracts with third parties to operate or provide licensed systems or services. The licensee must seek the consent of the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) if the effect of a proposed joint venture, association, contract or arrangement with a third party is to:
Permit a person not originally a party to the licence to share in any benefit of, or otherwise gain any right or privilege under the licence.
Otherwise have the effect of assigning, transferring, subletting or otherwise disposing of its rights and obligations under the licence.
This does not require the licensee to obtain the approval of the IMDA to appoint agents or engage independent contractors or subcontractors to carry out work or provide a service which enables the licensee to discharge its duties and obligations under the licence. However, the licensee is liable to IMDA for any act, omission, default, neglect or otherwise of the agents, independent contractors or subcontractors in carrying out such work or providing such a service.
The same terms can be found in an FBO Licence.
Singapore has emerged as a key services and outsourcing (SSO) hub. As of October 2016, there were 61 Facilities-Based Operator (FBO) licensees and over 1,000 Services-Based Operator (SBO) licensees. The relatively small number of FBO licensees compared with SBO licensees indicates that FBO licensees are supporting the significant potential outsourcing activity of SBO licensees.
There is significant interest in packet-based communications (packetisation), such as unified communications, and greater sectoral growth in data services such as cloud computing and managed data network services. These technologies aid in facilitating telecommunications outsourcing.
The authors observe two trends in telecommunications outsourcing:
Greater targeting of multinational companies by unified communications providers to meet communications needs on a global level. Packetisation of communications and data is becoming more popular because it enables service providers to bypass the limits of physical infrastructure of local incumbents.
Telecommunications outsourcing is no longer limited to telco companies. Even network companies are beginning to participate. Network hardware companies are now offering various products and services for conferencing and unified communications, just as software companies are also active. For example, Microsoft acquired Skype in 2011 and has deployed Skype for Business (previously Microsoft Lync).
The Next Generation Nationwide Broadband Network (NGNBN) is set to form a solid backbone for outsourcing. As a technology-agnostic wired network providing high-speed communications to homes and businesses, the NGNBN allows service providers to provide multimodal communications through the same platform. Because the service layer is separate from the transport layer, the NGNBN also offers lower barriers to entry for service providers.
CIOs in organisations have over the years moved towards outsourcing telecommunications services, particularly to eliminate the need to invest in stand-alone software or servers by relying on external providers, for example cloud computing service providers.
The key providers of outsourced communications are the Facilities-Based Operator (FBO) licensees, such as incumbent operators SingTel, StarHub and M1. National Computer Systems Pte Ltd (NCS), a wholly owned subsidiary of SingTel, also provides outsourced telecommunications, such as managed network services. Apart from local companies, foreign companies are also big players in the outsourcing market, with big-name companies such as Tata and BT being FBO licensed in Singapore.
There is a wide variety of telecommunications outsourcing providers in Singapore, consisting of:
Established IT outsourcing companies.
Mid-market telecommunications companies.
New entrants. For example, Google announced its decision in June 2015 to invest US$380 million into a second data centre in Singapore, to keep up with the region's growing mobile and web adoption.
A number of technologies influence outsourcing by telecommunications operators, including cloud services and cybersecurity technologies.
Cloud-based services such as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) are taking hold in Singapore, and increasingly draw entrants into the Singapore cloud provider market. For example, Google grew from an SaaS provider (Google Apps), which expanded into PaaS with its Google App Engine in 2008, and then into IaaS with Google Compute Engine in 2012. The government has also implemented a private government cloud (G-Cloud) in 2013 for government use, where for security and governance requirements outsourcing to public clouds is not possible.
In response to the increased demand and supply for cloud services, the former IDA (now IMDA) has also introduced a Multi-Tier Cloud Security (MTCS) Singapore standard, developed under the Information Technology Standards Committee (ITSC) for cloud service providers, to encourage their adoption of sound risk management and security practices through certification.
With the popularity of cloud-based services, cybersecurity threats are becoming more prevalent and are a threat to businesses operating in the cloud. Key industry players are beginning to realise the importance of adopting cybersecurity technologies. In April 2015, Singtel acquired US-based Trustwave, a provider of managed security services, for S$1.1 billion. The purchase shows that telco providers are seeking to bundle cybersecurity services along with their telco offerings to meet customer demands.
Service levels are one of the key issues in a typical telecommunications outsourcing transaction in Singapore. Given that the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) requires telecommunications licensees to be responsible for any act, omission, default, neglect or otherwise of their contractors, licensees which outsource telecommunications functions to other licensees typically impose high service levels on their outsourcing providers.
Certain organisations are required to adhere to a stringent technology risk management standard, and seek to impose these standards onto providers of outsourcing services. For example, financial institutions which outsource critical operations to telecommunications providers can be under certain legal obligations regarding permissible prescribed levels of unscheduled downtime, and provision of disaster recovery within specified timelines. They may also need to conduct incident reporting and root cause investigations as to service failures. These obligations are imposed by them onto the outsourcing provider.
Exit or transition plans need to be carefully drawn up by telecommunications outsourcing providers, as clients usually require continuous uptime and need to facilitate smooth transitions from one service provider to another. They can for example request the outsourcing provider to provide access to services to a bridge-institution or a third party acquirer.
The events of default for which clients of outsourcing providers can exit the outsourcing arrangement also need to be carefully reviewed, to avoid causing undue distress to either party on contractual termination.
Singapore Statutes Online
Description. Singapore's statutes, maintained by the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC). Up-to-date.
Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA)
Description. Resources including the Telecoms Competition Code. Up-to-date.
Lam Chung Nian, Partner
Professional qualifications. Singapore Bar; LLB, Hons (National University of Singapore); England and Wales, Solicitor; Registered Patent Agent
Areas of practice. Intellectual Property; technology; data protection; media; telecommunications practices.
Advising a national telecommunications carrier on the roll-out of a new services Next Generation Nationwide Broadband Network (NGNBN) framework in Singapore, including advising on Reference Interconnection Offers.
Drafting and negotiating numerous agreements (both information technology specific and general commercial) relating to the establishment of Singapore's first private fixed-line telecommunications company.
Advising Leighton Holdings Ltd, an Australian construction giant, on its roll-out plan in Singapore in respect of the agreement with Alcatel-Lucent to build a 4,800 kilometre submarine cable network between Singapore and Perth, and obtaining associated regulatory approvals, including securing an FBO Licence.
Acting for British Telecom (BT) Global Services (part of BT Group plc), the UK-based global telecommunications company, in negotiations with a Singapore incumbent telecommunications company on the provision of dedicated telecom services to a worldwide customer.
Gareth Liu, Associate
Professional qualifications. Singapore Bar; LLB, Hons (National University of Singapore)
Areas of practice. Intellectual Property; technology; data protection; media and telecommunications.