MDA seeks feedback on pay-TV consumers breaking contracts with no penalty

SINGAPORE - Consumers may soon be able to cancel their pay-TV subscriptions without paying a penalty if the service provider changes programming or pricing. But if consumers had received a free laptop or tablet as part of their pay-TV subscription, they might have to pay early termination charges for the equipment.

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Here is the statement from the Media Development Authority:

The Media Development Authority (MDA) has launched a public consultation today 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.

Three key enhancements to address three key concerns

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.

Other recommendations for relevance or public awareness

Transfer of certain licence conditions to the MMCC: Currently, the licences of pay-TV retailers require them to provide a month's notification to subscribers for changes in channel line-up and price increase; provide a six-month notice before the termination of operations, or any part of its service; as well as publish charges, terms and conditions of their services to their customers. MDA is proposing to transfer these licence conditions to the MMCC, such that they will be made public in the Code, thus bringing about greater public awareness and transparency.

Removal of PDPA-type provisions: With the introduction of the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), which already protects the personal data of individuals, MDA proposes for the removal of similar provisions from the MMCC.

This public consultation closes on October 22, 2014 at 5pm. Interested parties may email their feedback to Members of the public can also share their feedback in person, as MDA will be conducting focus group discussions as part of the public consultation.