StarHub told it has to share cable network

StarHub told it has to share cable network
(Top) A StarHub Hubstation set-up box. (Bottom) A Singtel Mio box.

The authorities have ended a four-year dispute between SingTel and StarHub over the use of cable networks within homes for SingTel's mioTV services.

The cable connection points in every room of a home now need not carry only TV and broadband signals from StarHub.

Any service provider can tap the existing cable network within homes to deliver their own services, including those sent over the ultra-fast fibre-optic network.

Many homes distribute the signals via a wireless router. But Wi-Fi, being prone to interference and slowdowns, is not suitable for data-rich uses like high-definition 3D TV.

The cable network - pre-installed in all new homes - thus comes in handy for home networking. And unlike Wi-Fi, it is not susceptible to interference and slowdowns.

The dispute started in 2010 when SingTel got the Infocomm Development Authority's (IDA) approval to use StarHub's cable network to distribute mioTV services within residences here.

StarHub cried foul, citing potential "interference or degradation" problems to its cable broadband and TV users including those in neighbouring residences.

The IDA stepped in twice over the last four years to help resolve the issue. After a public consultation in September 2011 failed to end the feud, it called for another consultation in April last year.

The authority's final word on the matter came on July 21, urging StarHub to negotiate "in good faith" to share its cable network.

"Where reasonable access is not provided, IDA is prepared to also allow the deployment of the isolation filter in homes," said IDA in consultation documents published on its website.

StarHub has said it wants to impose conditions, including charges for supervised access. This is because cable networks outside of homes are maintained by StarHub, which built them in 1999. But people own the portions of the network within their homes and do not need the telco's permission to use it.

An isolation filter is used to split the cable into two lanes, one for StarHub and the other for SingTel, for instance.

When contacted, a SingTel spokesman said the telco will discuss fees and other terms and conditions with StarHub to establish a "commercially viable" solution.

StarHub said it will comply with the new code.

The overall winners, it seems, are consumers. Mr Michael Tan, 44, the director of an IT firm that sells such technology, said: "There is demand for an alternative high-performance home networking solution."

Banking executive Esther Pang, 39, who had not been able to surf the Internet in her bedroom as Wi-Fi signals had to pass through at least three concrete walls in her home, agrees. "The signals were almost non-existent in my bedroom," she said.

Ms Pang, who was involved in a SingTel trial in 2010, considered laying ethernet cables but SingTel suggested using the coaxial cables already installed and concealed in the walls to distribute the fibre broadband signals to her room.

"It was the best option then," she said. "Now I can surf the Web and watch mioTV in my bedroom."

This article was first published on August 4, 2014.
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