Singapore strikes net neutrality balance

A vote by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to repeal the net neutrality rules spearheaded by the Obama administration was largely met with disdain by internet companies and users.

Proponents of these rules often claim that blocking or discriminating internet traffic limits consumer choices, hampers innovation and goes against the principle of a free and open internet.

Those on the opposing fence, mainly telcos and internet service providers (ISPs), have argued for their right to optimise finite network resources and charge over-the-top (OTT) service providers for traffic that passes through their networks. Video streaming services, for one, account for a large part of web traffic.

Singapore’s net neutrality stance appears to have struck a compromise on both sides of the net neutrality debate.

In a white paper published by the then Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) in 2011, ISPs and telcos in Singapore are not allowed to block legitimate content. Nor can they impose discriminatory practices that could render any legitimate content effectively inaccessible or unusable.

While telcos and ISPs in the city-state can still throttle traffic, IDA said “traffic management practices that are found to be anti-competitive or to harm consumer interests will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis”.

Service providers are also allowed to offer specialised or customised content, applications and services based on commercially negotiated arrangements. This has enabled telcos to partner with OTT service providers such as Netflix and Spotify to offer add-on services for consumers without any degradation in user experience.

Singapore’s net neutrality stance has enabled telcos and ISPs to benefit from the growing popularity of OTT services, keeping them invested in efforts to improve their networks and offer a wider variety of services for consumers.

It is thus heartening to know that the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), formed from the merger of IDA and the Media Development Authority in 2016, has said that it would not change Singapore’s position on net neutrality, which together with its licensing approach, has kept the telcos on their toes and brought new services and operators to market.