Net neutrality and charging for WhatsApp, Skype

Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Minister for Communications and Information
with regard to “net neutrality” (a) whether Internet Service Providers (ISPs) or network operators
are allowed to (i) throttle legitimate Internet content, albeit without rendering them unusable and
still remaining above the threshold of IDA’s minimum Quality of Service (QoS) requirements;
(ii) impose extra charges on consumers or providers of over-the-top (OTT) services like
WhatsApp and Skype; and (b) whether there are any plans to introduce net neutrality regulations
to prohibit discriminatory network management practices which negatively affect consumers’
experience when using legitimate Internet services.

In January this year, Singtel CEO Chua Sock Koong reiterated her belief, which she first made public last year, that telcos should be allowed to charge major Internet content providers ­like WhatsApp, Facebook and YouTube­ for consumers to have faster access to their content. Many saw this as a violation of the principle of net neutrality, which has been a subject of intense debate in the US.

Today in Parliament, I sought clarification from the Minister on the Government’s position on net neutrality, and in particular the the imposition of extra charges for services like WhatsApp and Skype, which consumers currently enjoy for free (except for their regular data charges). The Minister provided the written reply (below) that “ISPs in Singapore cannot impose extra charges on consumers or providers of over-the-top (OTT) services like WhatsApp and Skype where these harm competition or end-users’ interests.”

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Parliament Question, 13 April 2015

NET NEUTRALITY REGULATIONS TO PREVENT DISCRIMINATORY NETWORK MANAGEMENT PRACTICES

Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Minister for Communications and Information with regard to “net neutrality” (a) whether Internet Service Providers (ISPs) or network operators are allowed to (i) throttle legitimate Internet content, albeit without rendering them unusable and still remaining above the threshold of IDA’s minimum Quality of Service (QoS) requirements; (ii) impose extra charges on consumers or providers of over-the-top (OTT) services like WhatsApp and Skype; and (b) whether there are any plans to introduce net neutrality regulations to prohibit discriminatory network management practices which negatively affect consumers’ experience when using legitimate Internet services.

Assoc Prof Dr Yaacob Ibrahim: IDA’s net neutrality policy was developed in 2011 after consultation with the industry and the public. IDA’s policy aims to encourage innovative services by ISPs, while protecting consumers’ interest in enjoying quality Internet access. For example, ISPs in Singapore can manage bandwidth usage during peak hours to ensure that user experiences are generally not affected. Certain applications which take up a lot of bandwidth, such as the exchange of files, may be managed during these periods. However, they are not allowed to block legitimate Internet content altogether.

IDA’s policy also allows ISPs to offer differentiated services tailored to the needs of different users, while complying with IDA’s information transparency, Quality of Service standards and fair competition requirements. These providers must publish their network management policies, so that consumers can make informed choices when selecting a service plan. For example, some ISPs have introduced specialised broadband plans for Internet gamers who desire fewer delays in Internet connection and/or direct connection to gaming servers. We understand that regulators in the US and European Union do not prohibit such practices.

ISPs in Singapore cannot impose extra charges on consumers or providers of over-the-top (OTT) services like WhatsApp and Skype where these harm competition or end-users’ interests.

Since the formalisation of the net neutrality policy, IDA has monitored market practices and has not found any pattern to suggest that ISPs are operating in breach of this policy.

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