Protecting pay-TV users from mid-contract changes

Protecting pay-TV users from mid-contract changes

Consumers may soon be able to cancel their pay-TV contracts without paying a penalty if the service provider changes the price or programmes without getting consent.

Yesterday, the Media Development Authority (MDA) launched a public consultation to review its Media Code, to come up with rules to better protect consumers against unfair pay-TV practices.

First mentioned in Parliament in March, the changes cover instances where pay-TV operators impose higher fees, or remove channels or important programmes while contracts are still in force.

The four-week consultation ends on Oct 22.

Pay-TV providers changing the terms of ongoing contracts have long been the bane of consumers.

But Christopher Ng, MDA's assistant chief executive of regulatory, said the agency is "mindful of the need to balance consumer and industry concerns".

Several safeguards to prevent abuse on the part of consumers were added to the proposed rules and released yesterday.

They include allowing customers to exit their contracts no later than 30 days from the date of pay-TV operators making "unilateral changes" to programming or pricing.

If they cancel after the 30-day period, consumers may still have to pay a penalty.

Any "mitigating actions" by pay-TV operators - such as the lowering of subscription fees or the offering of replacement content - may also allow them to impose a fee on consumers who cancel their contracts.

Consumers may still have to pay early termination charges for any "free" laptop or tablet received under the deal.

Real estate agent Wong Peng Khuen, 61, is against such exceptions. "The contract must run its course. You change the contract, then it should be void," he said.

Two other rules to tackle consumer complaints will be considered under the review.

One is to prohibit telcos from forcing subscribers to upgrade non-pay-TV services - such as fixed broadband or mobile lines - when they want to alter only their pay-TV package.

Mr Wong said that he had to pay more in 2012 to upgrade his SingTel fixed broadband plan to qualify for its Champions League pay-TV package.

Another rule is to require pay-TV operators to highlight important contractual terms - such as the expiry of promotional prices or clauses that allow unilateral programming changes - before customers sign up.

"Not all unilateral changes are bad for consumers. Some are positive, such as both retailers adding new channels at no cost in recent years," said an MDA spokesman.

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