Government passes telecoms amendments to strengthen IDA’s powers

21 Nov 2011

The parliament of the city-state of Singapore has passed a number of amendments to the country’s Telecommunications Act, which will give the industry watchdog the Info-communications Development Authority (IDA) additional powers to regulate the market. channelnewsasia.com writes that the amendments are organised into six areas, and include plans to give the Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts powers to impose a Separation Order for the transfer of telecoms assets or business of a licensee to a separate entity. The government hopes that such a measure will help to remove barriers to competition, specifically in market segments where one operator controls the network infrastructures as well as participating in the delivery of retail services.

The second important change to the legal framework will allow the minister to issue Special Administrative Orders that would enable the takeover of a telecoms service or property by a third party. The state hopes that this rule will ensure that a key telecoms service remains ‘functional, for public and national interest, in cases of insolvency by an operator’. Until now, the law dictated that a minister only had power to act in such a circumstance in the event of a public emergency. The new powers will be used judiciously, parliament has been reassured, with the Separation Order being reserved as a measure of ‘last resort’ it said. Other amendments will allow the IDA to impose higher penalties and to suspend or cancel a licence if penalties are not paid on time. They also allow IDA to issue a written order on building and land owners who contravene the ‘Code of Practice for Infocomm Facilities in Buildings’ to find out reasons for non-compliance, instead of imposing an immediate penalty. The changes also clarify the rights and privileges of a Public Telecommunications Licensee, which will help the market develop its advanced infrastructure – i.e. Next Generation Nationwide Broadband Network. Finally, the amendments bring the Act into line with ‘new business concepts’ where they concern mergers and acquisitions within the telecoms industry.