Overview

  • The merger of the IDA and the MDA will lead to streamlining of the legislative and licensing framework governing infocomm and media players
  • The  new  Info-communications  Media  Development  Authority  of  Singapore  (“IMDA”)  will develop and regulate both the infocomm and media sectors, as a converged regulator
  • The  Personal  Data  Protection  Commission  (“PDPC”),  the  regulator  for  the  Personal  Data Protection Act (“PDPA”), will be part of the new IMDA
  • The new Government Technology Organisation (“GTO”) will help government agencies leverage emerging technologies
  • Various pieces of legislation will be amended and promulgated, including the Broadcasting Act (Cap. 28), Films Act (Cap. 107) and Telecommunications Act (Cap. 323)
  • Potential for public consultation to be held

The Ministry of Communications and Information (“MCI”) announced on 18 January 2016 that the Info- communications Development Authority of Singapore (“IDA”) and the Media Development Authority of Singapore (“MDA”) will be restructured to form the IMDA and the GTO.

The IDA and the MDA will be administratively re-organised and replaced by the IMDA and the GTO from 1 April 2016. The new entities will be officially established by statute in the second half of 2016. Existing IDA and MDA policy initiatives for 2016 will not be affected by their restructuring; for example, the Broadcasting Act (Cap. 28), Films Act (Cap. 107) and Telecommunications Act (Cap. 323) will be amended, and an auction for new spectrum will be held. It is expected that the legislative amendments will take convergence into account.

The restructuring comes after the introduction of the Infocomm Media Masterplan 2025 on 11 August 2015, which aimed to unleash the full potential of a converged infocomm media sector. The Masterplan recognised that convergence  is accelerating, as demonstrated by traditional telecommunications providers entering the media business, and by social media players entering the telecommunications space. Further, media content is increasingly delivered over the internet, and not limited to transmission platforms such as television and radio. Indeed, traditional media is moving towards new business and ubiquitous delivery models to keep up with changes in user behaviour.

The formation of a converged regulator is a logical next step in the evolution of the regulatory landscape, and follows the approach taken in countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Brunei, as described below.

Roles of the New Regulators

Role of IMDA

The new IMDA will combine the regulatory and industry promotion functions of both the IDA and the MDA, and will include the PDPC. As the MCI notes, the IMDA will develop and regulate the infocomm and media sectors in a holistic way.

The IMDA will implement the Infocomm Media Masterplan 2025, to encourage greater development of a converged infocomm media sector, by emphasising talent, research, innovation and enterprise. It will also deepen regulatory capabilities for the infocomm media sector, safeguarding the interests of consumers and fostering pro-enterprise regulations.

Note, however, that the MCI has not released details of whether and how the IMDA will combine the MDA and the IDA functions of promoting and maintaining fair and efficient market conduct and effective competition, for both the media industries and telecommunication technology activities.

Role of GTO

The new GTO is expected to play an operational role, and will replace the current IDA’s Government Chief Information Office (“GCIO”).

The creation of the GTO reflects the Singapore government’s intention to transform government service delivery through intensive use of information technology, and clearly is reflective of the shift into the digital era. In particular, the GTO will help government agencies leverage emerging technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, and Big Data. The GTO will also be responsible for ensuring the resiliency and cybersecurity needs of government infrastructure.

GTO is expected to enforce public sector regulations relating to cybersecurity, although its functions will not overlap with those of the Cyber Security Agency (“CSA”), which has national oversight and is working with regulators from various sectors in addition to GTO. The GTO will also implement the Smart Nation infrastructure, without overlap with the Smart Nation Programme Office (“SNPO”).

Why Converge? – Converged Regulators Worldwide

The formation of a converged regulator in Singapore follows the approach taken by other jurisdictions, in response to the blurring lines between technology and media, changes in the way that service providers are delivering their content and bundling their services, as well as changes in the way that users are consuming services and content. These changes have led to calls from industry and consumers for an up- to-date, consistent and more effective regulatory framework, which only a converged framework can bring about.

United Kingdom

The Office of Communications (“Ofcom”) is the communications regulator in the UK. It regulates the television, radio and video on demand sectors, fixed line telecoms, mobiles, postal services, and wireless spectrum. The Ofcom was established in 2003 and replaced five legacy regulators: the Broadcasting Standards Commission, the Independent Television Commission, the Office of Telecommunications, the Radiocommunications Agency and the Radio Authority. Even though the Ofcom had to administer a larger number of regulations, the change resulted in greater efficiencies and reduced staffing costs.

Australia

In Australia, the converged Australian Communications and Media Authority (“ACMA”) was formed in 2005, as a result of the merger of the Australian Broadcasting Authority and the Australian Communications Authority. It regulates broadcasting, the internet, radio communications, and telecommunications.

The merger resulted in greater efficiencies, and enabled more effective regulation of the relevant sectors. However, the existing regulatory frameworks that applied to the telecommunications and broadcasting sectors were not significantly amended. A Convergence Review conducted in 2012 found that the distinction between these sectors had become increasingly blurred and that these regulatory frameworks had outlived their original purpose. These frameworks now run the risk of inhibiting the evolution of communications and media services.

Asia

Hong Kong’s converged regulator, the Communications Authority, was established in 2012 from the Telecommunications Authority and the Broadcasting Authority. The change has helped Hong Kong to maintain its leadership position as a regional communications centre, with a thriving  broadcasting market and rapidly growing telecommunications market.

Malaysia’s converged regulator is the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (“MCMC”), which was established in 1998 and replaced several sectoral regulators, such as the telecommunications, broadcasting and postal services regulators. The change resulted in converged legislation and a “one-stop regulatory shop”, and was part of a national strategy to foster a knowledge- based economy driven by the infocomm media sector.

Brunei is in the midst of developing a converged regulatory regime for broadcasting and telecommunications, with the Authority for Info-communications Technology Industry (“AITI”) as a converged regulator.

Impact of merger on legislative and licensing framework

The establishment of a converged regulator heralds a new chapter in Singapore’s infocomm media regulatory landscape, and follows the examples of other converged regulators worldwide. As highlighted in the preceding section, convergence leads to, amongst other matters, economies of scale in the technology, media & telecommunications industries.

The IMDA will now be able to provide regulatory oversight and analyse the impact of infocomm media players across the media, telecoms and IT sectors in Singapore holistically. The merger will lead to streamlining of the legislative and licensing framework governing infocomm media players. It is not inconceivable that the separate infocomm and media regulatory frameworks may be combined into one. The government may take this opportunity to review the licensing framework and introduce new licence categories for application and content service provisioning, in line with the new media environment. It is likely that public consultations will be held to seek feedback on the proposed new pieces of legislation and licences.

The creation of a single regulator removes the need for businesses to approach two regulators separately, creating better efficiencies for both the private and public sectors. The combination of expertise puts the regulator in the best position to handle new emerging technologies, and to deal with media and broadcasting licensing issues where new models of delivery are replacing old. It could open new opportunities for emerging services and technology, including over-the-top (“OTT”) and machine-to- machine (“M2M”) services. The restructure could impact regulation of the PDPA, and competition matters in the infocomm media industries. Existing licensees may need to update or convert their licences accordingly in the transition to the new regulatory framework.

Conclusion and next steps

We expect the MCI to release more details in due course. The degree of convergence in the amendments to the telecommunications and broadcasting regulatory frameworks also remains to be seen. Our team looks forward to updating you on any further developments, and to helping you achieve the most advantageous outcomes that may flow from this restructuring.