Govt stake in telco network 'for security'

THE Government's ownership of key parts of a telco network is crucial to ensuring greater resilience and security, especially in Singapore's push to be a smart nation, said Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, he said it is common for some components of a public-sector system to be partly owned by the Government and partly provided by the private sector.

He was addressing concerns raised during the debate over his ministry's spending plans for the coming financial year.

Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam had asked if the Government really needed to incur the cost of owning key parts of such a network, and if smart nation applications can be built on existing telco infrastructure.

Said Dr Yaacob: "I am sure that members will agree that they will prefer the data in the Smart Nation Platform to be stored in servers owned by the Government, rather than stored in private company servers." Also, if Singapore's smart nation drive involves executing a host of public functions from security to health care, it is important, especially in a crisis, that the bandwidth to support such data transfers is resilient, he said. "These factors mean that it is not prudent for the underlying infrastructure to be completely outsourced," he said.

Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) had also raised concerns about poor 3G mobile coverage indoors even though more advanced 4G services have already been rolled out extensively.

Responding to this, Dr Yaacob said the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) tests the indoor coverage of a sample of buildings every month, and had in April 2013 significantly enhanced the in-building standard.

The regulator requires at least 85 per cent 3G mobile coverage on all floors in buildings, including carparks on basement one. Previously, the requirement applied only to ground-floor public spaces.

"To date, all three mobile operators have met the in-building standard," he said, adding that the ministry would continue to review the framework.

Responding to a request from Workers' Party MP Png Eng Huat (Hougang) for more to be done to make telcos more accountable for wrongful billing, Dr Yaacob said telcos have already been made to account for this under existing regulations. Telcos are required to take steps to authenticate a user and seek explicit purchase confirmation before activating premium services, such as those from third-party mobile content providers that peddle ringtones and games, he noted. These premium services are often responsible for wrongful billing complaints.

Dr Yaacob said IDA requires unsolicited charges to be refunded to consumers, or it may take offending service providers to task. On cyber security, he said the new Cyber Security Agency (CSA), to be set up next month, is the answer to safeguarding Singapore from large-scale breaches. He was responding to queries from Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) on Singapore's readiness in tackling increasingly sophisticated cyber threats. WP chief Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) had also asked for CSA implementation details.

CSA will coordinate public and private-sector efforts to protect national systems, such as those in the energy and banking sectors. It will work closely with agencies, including the National Security Coordination Secretariat, to mitigate growing cyber threats, Dr Yaacob said.

CSA will also work with the National Research Foundation (NRF) on cyber security research. Seven projects have received total funding of $42 million so far from NRF's $130 million research grant, announced in 2013, to focus on cyber forensic techniques and resilient systems, among other things.

This article was first published on March 11, 2015.
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