Singapore: MDA consultation to enhance consumer protection

The Media Development Authority (MDA) has launched a public consultation on its proposed recommendations to enhance consumer protection measures under the Media Market Conduct Code (MMCC). This four-week long public consultation is part of MDA’s efforts to further protect the interest of pay-TV consumers.

MDA last reviewed the consumer protection provisions in 2011, which saw the introduction of measures such as maximum contract term and graduated early termination charges (ETCs). For the public consultation that is launched today, MDA has proposed three key areas of changes to address key consumer concerns. In determining the proposed changes, MDA sought to balance the need to safeguard consumer interest with the concerns of the industry. The three key areas of recommendations are:

1. Unilateral contract variations: MDA proposes to allow pay-TV subscribers to exit their contracts without early termination charges (ETCs) if unilateral changes by the retailers are detrimental to subscribers due to:
– an increase in subscription fee; and/ or
– a removal of channel(s); and/ or
– a removal of material content within a channel.

At the same time, MDA recognises industry concerns of possible abuse and is also proposing that:
– Consumers are only allowed to exit without ETCs no later than 30 days from the date of change;
– Retailers are allowed to charge ETCs for equipment not essential to the provision of the service, such as for laptops and tablets, subject to certain conditions;
– If a retailer takes the appropriate mitigating action(s), such as reducing the subscription fee, it may be allowed to charge ETCs for consumers who exit their contracts.

2. Forced upgrade of non pay-TV services: MDA proposes to disallow retailers from forcing subscribers to upgrade their non pay-TV services (such as broadband or phone service contracts) to make changes to their pay-TV services. However, retailers are allowed to offer such upgrades as options for their consumers’ consideration.

3. Lack of awareness of important terms and conditions of service: MDA proposes to require retailers to bring to consumers’ attention the following important terms before the contract is signed:
– specifics on price, channels and material content within a channel;
– presence of unilateral variation contract clauses and the applicable consumer recourse, if any;
– changes to service upon the expiry of promotional or continuous service(s);
– duration for which complimentary content/ services are available, and applicable charges thereafter; and
– When applicable charges will apply for free trials.

Additionally, MDA also proposes for retailers to obtain subscribers’ consent to continue with the trial and/ or complimentary service, before they can start charging.

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