Communications policyRegulatory and institutional structure
Summarise the regulatory framework for the communications sector. Do any foreign ownership restrictions apply to communications services?Regulatory framework
The Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) is the converged regulator for the info-communications and media sectors and is responsible for the development, promotion and regulation of the info-communications industry, which includes both the telecoms and IT sectors. The IMDA is under the direct authority of the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI).
At present, the telecoms and media sectors are governed by separate regulatory frameworks.
The telecoms sector is regulated by the IMDA under the Telecommunications Act (Cap. 323) (the Telecoms Act) and the Info-communications Media Development Authority Act 2016 (the IMDA Act).
‘Telecommunications’ is defined very broadly under the Telecoms Act as:
[A] transmission, emission or reception of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds or intelligence of any nature by wire, radio, optical or other electro-magnetic systems whether or not such signs, signals, writing, images, sounds or intelligence have been subjected to a rearrangement, computation or other processes by any means in the course of their transmission, emission or reception.
The Telecoms Act is the primary legislation governing the telecoms industry in Singapore. It sets out the broad licensing and regulatory framework for the telecoms sector. Specific issues are dealt with through regulations, codes of practice, standards of performance, directions and advisory guidelines issued by the IMDA, pursuant to its powers under the Telecoms Act.
The Telecoms Act itself does not make a distinction between fixed, mobile and satellite services. This is consistent with the technology-neutral approach that the IMDA has taken in regulating the industry. There are, however, licensing and regulatory requirements that are service-specific. For instance, the Telecommunications (Radio-Communications) Regulations (Radio-Communications Regulations) regulate the licensing process for radio frequency (RF) spectrum, the use of RF spectrum and the operation of radio stations and networks. This set of regulations applies primarily to mobile services.
Other regulations cover specific issues pertaining to fixed, mobile and satellite services. Examples of such regulations are the Telecommunications (Class Licence) Regulations, the Telecommunications (Dealers) Regulations and the Telecom Competition Code 2012 (TCC). The TCC presently regulates competition, interconnection and market access across the entire telecoms industry, although the IMDA is currently reviewing and developing a converged competition code to govern competition and market-related matters in both the telecoms and media markets, which will supersede the TCC when it comes into effect.
At present, the Telecoms Act does not apply to the licensing of any broadcasting service or any broadcasting apparatus that is already subject to regulation under the Broadcasting Act (Cap. 28).
Foreign ownership restrictions
Since 1 April 2000, no direct or indirect foreign equity limits have applied to telecoms licensees. However, other than in exceptional circumstances, the IMDA’s current practice is to issue facilities-based telecoms licences only to companies incorporated in Singapore, which can be wholly owned by a foreign entity. In the case of services-based licences, the IMDA would also issue licences to foreign companies with a locally registered branch. Merger and acquisition control regulations exist under the TCC.Authorisation/licensing regime
Describe the authorisation or licensing regime.Licensing framework
All persons operating and providing telecoms systems and services in Singapore must be licensed under section 5 of the Telecoms Act. The IMDA categorises licences for the operation and provision of telecoms systems and services into licences for either facilities-based operators (FBOs) or services-based operators (SBOs), and where RF spectrum is required for the provision of wireless services, additional licensing is required under the Radio-Communications Regulations.
A person intending to deploy telecoms infrastructure (generally taken to refer to any transmission facility) to provide telecoms services to other telecoms licensees or end users must obtain an FBO licence. The IMDA generally adopts a technology-neutral approach towards the licensing of telecoms infrastructure. The configuration of the systems deployed and the technology platform (wireless or wired) adopted will be left to the choice of the licensee, subject to spectrum and other physical constraints.
An FBO licence is on a higher hierarchical level than an SBO licence. As such, an FBO licensee does not need an SBO licence if it wishes to provide services that on their own would have required an SBO licence. The converse, however, does not apply. An SBO licensee that wishes to deploy telecoms infrastructure in the provision of telecoms services must apply for an FBO licence. The FBO licence will then replace the SBO licence.
Although the general conditions of an FBO licence are standardised across all FBO licensees, additional specific conditions may apply to each individual FBO licensee depending on the services that the licensee may provide.
The following are some telecoms systems and services that may require an FBO licence:
- any terrestrial telecoms infrastructure for the carriage of telecoms or broadcasting traffic (be it cross-border or local traffic; network coverage may be nationwide or limited to selected local geographic broadcast), including but not limited to:
- submarine cables (including the establishment of frontier stations, backhaul and sale of indefeasible rights of use);
- satellite international gateways; and
- domestic telecoms networks (including core backbone and local access networks);
- public switched telephone services;
- public switched Integrated Services Digital Network services;
- leased circuit services;
- public radio communication services;
- public cellular mobile telephone services;
- public trunked radio services;
- public mobile data services;
- terrestrial telecommunication network for broadcasting purposes only; and
- satellite uplink or downlink for broadcasting purposes.
Annual fees and duration
Licence duration: 15 years, renewable for a further period as the IMDA thinks fit.
FBO designated as public telecoms licensee
Licence duration: 20 years, renewable for a further period as the IMDA thinks fit.
Public mobile data services
Public trunked radio services
Licence duration: 10 years, renewable for a further period as the IMDA thinks fit.
Terrestrial telecoms network for broadcasting purposes only
Satellite uplink/downlink for broadcasting purposes
Licence duration: 10 years, renewable every 5 years.
Annual fee: S$5,000
SBO licences are granted to operators that do not intend to deploy telecoms infrastructure. Such licensees may instead lease telecoms network elements (such as transmission capacity and switching services) from FBO licensees to provide telecoms services or resell the telecoms services of other telecoms licensees. SBO services can be individually licensed or class-licensed. Class licensing is a licensing scheme where the standard terms and conditions that apply to the category of licences are published in an official gazette for compliance. Operators providing the services within the scope of the class licence will be deemed to have read and agreed to the terms and conditions of the class licence. Generally, operators leasing international transmission capacity to provide telecoms services will be licensed individually.
Telecoms services that require SBO (individual) licensing include, without limitation:
- international simple resale;
- resale of local leased fixed-line connectivity services;
- public internet access services;
- internet exchange services;
- virtual private network services;
- managed data network services;
- mobile virtual network operation;
- live audio-text services;
- internet protocol (IP) telephony services;
- satellite mobile telephone or data services;
- mobile communications on aircraft;
- voice and data services with masking of calling line identity;
- machine-to-machine services;
- white space geolocation database services; and
- prepaid services for other telecoms services, such as:
- callback and call re-origination services;
- internet-based voice and data services;
- international calling card (ICC) services;
- resale of public switched telecoms services;
- store-and-retrieve value-added network services; and
- store-and-forward value-added network services.
Telecoms services that require only an SBO (class) licence include, without limitation:
- call-back and call re-origination services;
- internet-based voice and data services;
- ICC services;
- resale of public switched telecoms services;
- store-and-retrieve value-added network services;
- store-and-forward value-added network services;
- audio-text services; and
- public chain payphone services.
Certain services, such as audio-text and internet access services, are subject to concurrent telecoms and media licensing requirements. In this respect, audio-text and internet access services are also deemed to be class-licensed under the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification.
SBO (individual) licence
Live audio-text services only
S$200 every 5 years
SBO (class) licence
Resale of public switched telecommunication services, public chain payphone services, and store-and-retrieve value-added network services (without the use of leased circuits)
No registration fee
All other categories of SBO (class) licences
S$200 (one-time payment)
Licensing – radio frequency
Pursuant to its exclusive privilege under the Telecoms Act, the IMDA can determine how the RF spectrum is allocated. The IMDA can also make decisions on the assignment of unused radio spectrum. Specifically, the Radio-Communications Regulations give the IMDA the right to prepare and publish radio spectrum plans and RF band plans. The Radio Spectrum Master Plan is a document prepared by the IMDA pursuant to such statutory right and it serves to inform the industry and interested parties on the allocation and availability of spectrum, technological trends in the use of spectrum and the IMDA’s policy concerning spectrum allocation and reallocation for public communication networks. At the time of writing, the Radio Spectrum Master Plan is in the process of being updated by the IMDA, and the updated version has yet to be published. The IMDA is also empowered under the Radio-Communications Regulations to vary or revoke any radio spectrum plan or RF band plan, in whole or in part.
RFs required for the provision of 2G, 3G and 4G mobile services, as well as wireless broadband services, have been granted as spectrum rights through an auction process. RFs required for the operation of a satellite are generally allocated administratively or assigned by the IMDA as part of the satellite licence. The Radio-Communications Regulations also regulate the installation and maintenance of radio communications stations or networks in Singapore.
Regarding the permitted use of licensed radio spectrum, the general powers of section 5A(8) of the Telecoms Act and regulation 10(1)(i) of the Radio-Communications Regulations give the IMDA the discretion to direct the grantee concerning its use of the spectrum right. Additionally, the grantee may be restricted in its use of equipment within the allocated RF spectrum. For example, no station fitted in an aircraft shall be operated or used while such aircraft is at rest on land or water in Singapore, barring certain exceptional circumstances as stated in Regulation 36 of the Radio-Communications Regulations.
Provision of publicly available telephone services
Since 1 April 2000, subject to the IMDA’s licensing requirements, any person may apply to the IMDA for a licence to provide telecoms services to the public. There are no special conditions imposed by the IMDA for such services. A holder of an FBO licence may, however, depending on the scope and requirements of its operations, apply to the IMDA to be designated as a public telecommunication licensee (PTL) under section 6 of the Telecoms Act. A PTL is accorded certain statutory powers under the Telecoms Act to facilitate the deployment of telecoms infrastructure, including the power to enter state and private property to lay telecoms infrastructure. The IMDA will grant such applications only if the FBO licensee has committed to substantial telecoms infrastructure investment and roll-out to offer services to a significant proportion of the population within a reasonable time. At present, four licensees have been designated as PTLs (namely, NetLink NBN Management Pte Ltd (as trustee-manager of NetLink NBN Trust) and NetLink Management Pte Ltd (as trustee of NetLink Trust) as joint licensees, Singtel, StarHub and StarHub Cable Vision). The IMDA also reserves the right to impose basic service obligations on a PTL.
The IMDA may modify the conditions of a telecoms licence granted under section 5 of the Telecoms Act. The procedure to be followed is set out in section 7 of the Telecoms Act, which prescribes that, in the case of a PTL licensee, the IMDA first has to give notice to the PTL licensee of the proposed modifications to the licence, including whether compensation is payable. Before finalising any direction to implement the licence modifications, the IMDA is also required to give PTL licensees at least 28 days to make written representations on the proposed modifications. In the case of a non-PTL licensee, the Telecoms Act does not set out the procedure to be followed concerning the modification of the licence. Instead, the modification procedure of a non-PTL licence is typically set out in the relevant licence. Under the terms of their licences, telecoms licence holders may not assign, transfer, deal with or otherwise dispose of the whole or any part of the rights, privileges, duties or obligations under the licence without obtaining the prior written approval of the IMDA.
Provision of public Wi-Fi services
Operators providing public Wi-Fi services may require a telecom licence granted by the IMDA, as well as a broadcasting class licence. However, commercial establishments that are open to the public and that merely provide Wi-Fi to customers within their own premises for purposes incidental to their primary business may be exempted from telecom licensing requirements.
In 2006, the Singapore government launched the [email protected] programme, in partnership with private sector operators, to deploy wireless hotspots in public areas in Singapore to provide high-speed wireless broadband. The [email protected] programme aims to promote a wireless broadband lifestyle among citizens. At present, the four licensed [email protected] operators are Singtel, StarHub, M1 and TPG. Businesses, venue owners or tenants that wish to provide free Wi-Fi to their premises may enter into commercial agreements with the [email protected] operators for this purpose.Flexibility in spectrum use
Do spectrum licences generally specify the permitted use or is permitted use (fully or partly) unrestricted? Is licensed spectrum tradable or assignable?
The IMDA manages the allocation and usage of spectrum for various services, including public mobile, private land mobile, terrestrial fixed and broadcasting services. As such, spectrum licences generally specify that licensees can only use the assigned spectrum for the specified purpose. Conditions requiring the network to be operated on a non-interference and unprotected basis, and limiting the operation to specific geographical locations, may also be imposed.
The IMDA may also permit the existing assigned spectrum to be used for new purposes if there are grounds to do so. For example, in December 2014, the IMDA decided to allow 3G spectrum rights holders to deploy 4G and international mobile telecommunication (IMT)-advanced services using the 3G bands, subject to the following conditions:
- 3G spectrum rights holders who wish to deploy 4G and IMT-Advanced systems and services using the 3G bands are required to seek the IMDA’s prior approval;
- 3G spectrum rights holders must ensure there is no degradation of existing services;
- 3G spectrum rights holders must take measures to prevent interference to any IMDA-authorised networks; and
- the IMDA reserves the right to impose quality of service requirements on the 4G and IMT-Advanced systems and services, as well as other measures to protect consumer interests.
More recently, in August 2020, the IMDA also allowed mobile network operators to ride on existing 4G networks to deploy 5G Non-Standalone networks as part of trials to allow consumers to enjoy partial 5G experiences in the short-term, with faster mobile speeds on 5G-enabled devices as a key feature.
Licensed RF granted under a spectrum right may be traded and shared, subject to the IMDA’s prior approval and any restrictions and conditions specified by the IMDA. At present, the IMDA has not issued any specific regulations on the trading and sharing of RF, aside from general conditions stated in the Radio-Communications Regulations. Conditions on trading and sharing of RF may also be imposed via the licences or relevant spectrum rights.Ex-ante regulatory obligations
Which communications markets and segments are subject to ex-ante regulation? What remedies may be imposed?
Ex-ante regulations are primarily applied to licensees that are classified as ‘dominant licensees’ under the TCC. Under section 2.2.1 of the TCC, a licensee will be classified as ‘dominant’ if it is licensed to operate facilities that are sufficiently costly or difficult to replicate such that requiring new entrants to do so would create a significant barrier to rapid and successful entry into the telecommunication market in Singapore by an efficient competitor; or if it has the ability to exercise significant market power in any market in Singapore in which it provides telecommunication services.
In this regard, dominant licensees are subject to a range of ex-ante obligations under the TCC, such as:
- accounting separation requirements;
- obligations to file tariffs with the IMDA for approval;
- to provide unbundled services; and
- to allow resale of end-user services by any licensee.
Dominant licensees may also be required to offer certain interconnection and access-related services on terms that are pre-approved by the IMDA, by way of a standardised reference interconnection offer (RIO).
Unless exempted by the IMDA, dominant licensees must file tariffs for any telecommunications service they intend to offer (including any offer on a trial basis) with the IMDA and obtain the IMDA’s prior approval before offering the service. The proposed tariff filing must include:
- certain specified information, including a description of the service;
- the relevant prices, terms and conditions;
- any discounts or special considerations that will be offered; and
- the minimum period for which the service will be available.
The IMDA will assess whether the proposed tariff is just and reasonable under the principles in the TCC.
Interconnection with dominant licensees
If required by the IMDA, dominant licensees must also publish RIOs, under which they have to offer interconnection and access-related services on prices, terms and conditions that are pre-approved by the IMDA. A downstream operator that meets the relevant criteria may then request services from the dominant licensee under the terms of its RIO.
Presently, Singtel (which is the incumbent fixed-line network operator and also operates several telecoms facilities such as submarine cable landing stations) and NetLink Trust (whose assets include central offices, ducts and manholes) have been required to offer RIOs pursuant to the TCC.
In the context of the next-generation nationwide broadband network (NGNBN), the IMDA has also imposed similar obligations on the appointed network and operating companies to make available certain mandated services to qualifying persons under the terms of standardised interconnection offers (ICOs).
Dominant licensees are subject to the IMDA’s Accounting Separation Guidelines, which provide for two levels of accounting separation: detailed segment reporting and simplified segment reporting. The accounting separation requirements are intended to provide the IMDA with information to monitor cross-subsidisation by dominant FBO licensees, as well as to ensure that services provided internally by dominant FBO licensees to their downstream operators or affiliates are provided on similar terms to equivalent services provided to other unrelated licensees.
Briefly, detailed segment reporting involves separate reporting of key service segments and certain individual retail services. The requirements include a specified cost allocation process and prescribed allocation methodologies for certain cost and revenue items. Reports include both income statements and mean capital employed statements. In contrast, simplified segment reporting requires less disaggregation of operations and a less rigorous cost allocation process. Only income statement reporting is required.
Next-generation nationwide broadband network
To ensure effective open access of the NGNBN infrastructure for downstream operators, the IMDA has put in place structural separation and operational separation requirements on the network and operating companies.
Under Part VA of the Telecoms Act, all designated telecommunication licensees (DTLs), designated business trusts (DBTs) and designated trusts (DTs) are required to comply with merger control requirements. Where a transaction meets the specified pre-merger filing thresholds, generally, where the transaction would result in a party and its associates becoming either a 12 per cent controller (ie, holding 12 per cent or more) or a 30 per cent controller (ie, holding 30 per cent or more) of the ownership or voting power in a DTL, DBT or DT, the IMDA’s prior approval must be sought for the transaction. Also, the IMDA must be notified if a transaction would result in a person holding 5 per cent or more but less than 12 per cent of the ownership or voting power in a DTL, DBT or DT.
Under certain circumstances, the IMDA may require an FBO licensee (which may not be a dominant licensee) to ‘share’ its infrastructure with other licensees. As provided under section 7 of the TCC, the IMDA may require sharing of any infrastructure that it determines is ‘critical support infrastructure’, or where the IMDA concludes that sharing would be in the public interest, in accordance with the principles in the TCC.Structural or functional separation
Is there a legal basis for requiring structural or functional separation between an operator’s network and service activities? Has structural or functional separation been introduced or is it being contemplated?
Generally, the IMDA does not require structural or functional separation between an operator’s network and service activities in Singapore. However, concerning the NGNBN industry, the IMDA has, with a view to ensuring effective open access for downstream operators, instituted a multilayered industry structure consisting of:
- the network company (NetCo);
- several operating companies (OpCos) including the appointed OpCo; and
- numerous retail service providers.
At the first layer, the NetCo appointed by the IMDA is responsible for building and operating the passive infrastructure, which includes the dark fibre network. OpenNet Pte Ltd was the initial NetCo appointed by the IMDA. The assets and operations of OpenNet have since been taken over by NetLink Trust (acting through its trustee, NetLink Management Pte Ltd), following NetLink Trust’s acquisition of OpenNet effective 1 October 2014. In July 2017, 100 per cent of the units in NetLink Trust were acquired by NetLink NBN Trust (acting through its trustee-manager, NetLink NBN Management Pte Ltd). Under the conditions of the FBO licence held jointly by NetLink NBN Management Pte Ltd (as trustee-manager of NetLink NBN Trust) and NetLink Management Pte Ltd (as trustee of NetLink Trust), the NetCo is required to ensure structural separation, which involves, among other things, ensuring that:
- it has no effective control over any other telecoms licensee or broadcasting licensee;
- it is not under the effective control of any other telecoms licensee or broadcasting licensee; and
- it is not under the effective control of the same controlling entity as any other telecoms licensee or broadcasting licensee (the ‘no effective control’ requirements).
These requirements are intended to ensure that the NetCo and its downstream operators are separate entities with fully autonomous decision-making considerations and that they do not have control over each other’s management and major operating decisions.
At the second layer, Nucleus Connect Pte Ltd (Nucleus Connect), the appointed OpCo, is responsible for building and operating the active infrastructure, comprising switches and transmission equipment, to provide wholesale network services. While Nucleus Connect may be owned by its downstream operating units, it is nevertheless subject to a range of detailed operational separation requirements under its FBO licence conditions. The operational separation requirements are intended to ensure, among other things, that:
- downstream operators are treated in a non-discriminatory manner;
- Nucleus Connect independently formulates and makes its own commercial decisions; and
- it operates at arm’s length from affiliated operators.
Section 69C of the Telecoms Act also empowers the Minister for Communications and Information (the Minister), if certain conditions are met and in the public interest, to issue a separation order requiring the transfer of a telecom licensee’s business or assets to a separate or independent entity.Universal service obligations and financing
Outline any universal service obligations. How is provision of these services financed?
Generally, universal service obligations (USOs) are applied by the IMDA only to PTLs pursuant to the conditions of their licence. For example, Singtel, the incumbent telecoms operator, is required under its licence to provide basic telephone services to any person in Singapore who requests such service. In respect of the NGNBN, which is intended to deliver high-speed broadband access throughout Singapore, the IMDA has imposed USOs on both the appointed NetCo and OpCo following the creation of the NGNBN. The NetCo’s USO took effect from 1 January 2013. The NetCo’s USO obliges it to fulfil all requests to provide its fibre services to all locations in Singapore. Correspondingly, the OpCo must meet all reasonable requests by any operating company or downstream retail service providers for access to a basic set of wholesale services offered under its standard ICO.
Compliance with USOs is not financed by a statutorily created fund (such as universal service funds in other jurisdictions) or contributions from industry.Number allocation and portability
Describe the number allocation scheme and number portability regime in your jurisdiction.
The IMDA administers the number allocation scheme in Singapore under its National Numbering Plan. Among other things, the National Numbering Plan sets out rules and guidelines for the use and assignment of numbers to telecommunication services delivered over the public switched telephone network (PSTN), the radio network, user-centric data only (UCDO) and the internet or other IP-based networks; and describes the assignment of numbers to international services, trunk service, emergency services and special services such as voice mail and intelligent network (IN) services. There is only one numbering area in Singapore and area or trunk codes are not used. The PSTN, radio network, UCDO and IP telephony share the same numbering plan – a uniform eight-digit numbering plan.
Numbers are allocated to various service categories according to the first digit:
- ‘0’ for international services;
- ‘1’ for special services, including calls for operator assistance, service enquiry, machine-to-machine, internet dial-up, voice information, IN services and access code international direct dial type of services;
- ‘3’ for IP Telephony and UCDO services;
- ‘6’ for PSTN and IP Telephony services;
- ‘8’ and ‘9’ for eight-digit Radio Network numbers; and
- ‘99’ for three-digit emergency services.
Number portability across mobile networks and fixed-line services is obligatory. Fixed-line and mobile telephony operators are required to allow consumers to retain full use of their existing phone numbers when switching service providers. Also, IP telephony operators utilising level ‘6’ numbers (ie, Singapore telephone numbers beginning with ‘6’) are subject to the same number portability requirements as fixed-line operators. Syniverse Technologies is the centralised database administrator appointed to operate the centralised number portability database system, starting with the launch of full mobile number portability in June 2008. The IMDA has published a document titled the Fixed Number Portability Guidelines to set out the technical approach to fixed number portability by FBO licensees offering a fixed-line voice service.Customer terms and conditions
Are customer terms and conditions in the communications sector subject to specific rules?
Retail tariffs filed by dominant licensees for approval with the IMDA must include information relating to the customer terms and conditions.
Section 3 of the TCC also sets out several consumer protection-related provisions with which all FBO licensees and SBO licensees must comply. These include provisions relating to:
- minimum quality of service standards (and disclosure to end users of any lower standards agreed to);
- disclosure of prices, terms and conditions (including for services provided on a free trial basis);
- restrictions on service termination; and
- prohibition against charging for unsolicited telecoms services.
Section 3 of the TCC also includes several mandatory contractual provisions that must be included in all FBO licensees’ and SBO licensees’ end-user service agreements (ie, service contracts with business or residential subscribers). These include provisions relating to:
- billing cycles;
- the prices, terms and conditions upon which service will be provided; procedures for disputing charges; and
- termination or suspension of service.
The IMDA also has the right under the FBO and SBO licences to require licensees to file their schemes of service, including non-price terms and conditions for the provision of services, with the IMDA before the launch or announcement of such services.Net neutrality
Are there limits on an internet service provider’s freedom to control or prioritise the type or source of data that it delivers? Are there any other specific regulations or guidelines on net neutrality?
The IMDA’s policy framework on net neutrality is set out in a policy paper dated 16 June 2011, which sets out five principles representing its approach towards net neutrality that internet service providers (ISPs) and telecoms network operators are required to adhere to:
- they must not block legitimate internet content or impose discriminatory practices, restrictions, charges or other measures that would effectively render any legitimate internet content inaccessible or unusable;
- they must comply with competition and interconnection rules in the TCC;
- they must comply with the IMDA’s information transparency requirement and disclose to end users their network management practices and typical internet broadband download speeds;
- ISPs must meet the minimum broadband quality of service standards prescribed by the IMDA. Reasonable network management practices are allowed, provided that the minimum internet broadband quality of service standards are adhered to and that such practices will not render any legitimate internet content effectively inaccessible or unusable; and
- they are allowed to offer niche or differentiated services that meet the IMDA’s information transparency, minimum quality of service and fair competition requirements.
In particular, the IMDA recognised that to promote the development of online services, ISPs and network operators must be given the flexibility to manage their networks or differentiate their service offerings to meet the needs of changing customer demands or niche user groups. At the same time, such flexibility cannot result in discriminatory practices that render legitimate internet content effectively inaccessible or unusable. In this respect, the IMDA has indicated in its decision that it intends to deal with any complaints on a case-by-case basis.
In connection with the above, the IMDA requires residential fixed broadband internet access service providers to publish, on their websites, information about their respective network management policies (including whether traffic shaping is implemented).
While there are no express laws or regulations that prevent zero-rating of data transmission by certain services or applications or bandwidth throttling per se, ISPs would nevertheless need to comply with the general principles set out under the IMDA’s framework for net neutrality.Platform regulation
Is there specific legislation or regulation in place, and have there been any enforcement initiatives relating to digital platforms?
At present, there is no overarching legislation or regulatory framework that specifically deals with digital platforms. In the case of online digital platforms such as search engines, social media platforms and online digital media stores, they may instead be subject to a range of existing legislation and regulatory frameworks that govern specific sectors or subject matter. These may include, without limitation:
- to the extent that a digital platform constitutes a telecoms service, it may be subject to the telecoms licensing and regulatory framework;
- to the extent that a digital platform constitutes a broadcasting service, it may be subject to the broadcasting licensing and regulatory framework. In particular, where the platform operator may be considered to be an internet content provider, it may be deemed to be subject to a broadcasting class licence;
- to the extent that the computer or computer system behind the digital platform has been designated as critical information infrastructure (CII) in Singapore, owners of such computers or computer systems are subject to cybersecurity obligations under the Cybersecurity Act 2018 (the Cybersecurity Act);
- to the extent that a digital platform collects, uses or discloses personal data relating to individuals, it may be subject to data protection obligations under the Personal Data Protection Act 2012 (PDPA);
- to the extent that digital platforms are regarded as internet intermediaries (eg, social networks, search engines, content aggregators, internet-based messaging services and video-sharing services), they may be subject to directions and obligations under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act 2019 (POFMA); and
- competition issues involving a digital platform may be governed by the general competition law as established under the Competition Act that is administered by the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS), or sector-specific regulatory frameworks as administered by the respective regulatory authorities. For example, competition issues that impact the telecoms and media sector may fall within the purview of the IMDA. The Competition Act provides that it does not apply insofar as another regulatory authority (other than the CCCS) has jurisdiction in a particular competition matter.
In respect of enforcement activity, the POFMA Office has issued directions and orders on several occasions to Facebook to publish correction notices on the Facebook posts of users who had published false statements, as well as to disable access for Singapore users to Facebook pages which had repeatedly conveyed online falsehoods and did not comply with any of the POFMA Directions that had been served on the owners of such pages.Next-Generation-Access (NGA) networks
Are there specific regulatory obligations applicable to NGA networks? Is there a government financial scheme to promote basic broadband or NGA broadband penetration?
At present, NGNBN entities are regulated under existing telecommunication and media legislation, and through contractual obligations between them and the IMDA. In particular, the respective ICOs of NetLink Trust and Nucleus Connect, in fulfilment of their contractual obligation under their request-for-proposal bid commitment to the IMDA, set out the prices, terms and conditions upon which they would provide certain mandated NGNBN services.
Also, the IMDA has released specific regulations providing for licensing and regulatory frameworks in 2009 – namely the NetCo Interconnection Code (updated in April 2020) and the OpCo Interconnection Code (updated in April 2020) – to regulate the activities of the NetCo and OpCo respectively. The Interconnection Codes are the regulatory instruments underlying the ICOs and specify, inter alia, requirements related to the pricing, terms and conditions for the services offered by the NetCo and OpCo under their respective ICOs, as well as the obligations placed on both the NetCo and OpCo and persons requesting services from them. The obligations contained under the Interconnection Codes are in addition to those contained in the Telecoms Act, other statutes, regulations, directions, licences and codes of practice.
Government schemes promoting basic and NGA broadband
The Singapore government has been keenly promoting the development of basic broadband infrastructure, application and services since the 1990s. Many initiatives have been put in place over the years to promote the establishment of nationwide broadband networks. The government has also devoted significant efforts to encourage the roll-out and take-up of NGA broadband services, in particular, service offerings over the NGNBN. In 2015, the Singapore government launched the 10-year Infocomm Media 2025 master plan, which seeks to be a key enabler of the Singapore government’s vision to transform Singapore into the world’s first Smart Nation, by harnessing the power of technology including in the area of infrastructure.
In terms of government financial schemes for the promotion of a NGNBN, it was announced in December 2007 that the government would grant up to S$750 million for the development of this high-speed broadband network. This is part of the government’s intention to adopt a public-private partnership approach concerning the building, ownership and operation of the network. In particular, the government hopes that more small firms will be able to offer online services without being burdened by the cost of building the network. In line with the promotion of NGNBN, the IMDA has also spearheaded other broadband initiatives, including the Singapore Internet Exchange (SGIX), which serves as a neutral internet exchange for local and international IP traffic. By establishing multiple nodes in different sites in Singapore as its core, the SGIX plays a significant role in the deployment of services over the NGNBN, allowing for the efficient exchange of traffic, reducing latency and ensuring sustainable, reliable transmission of bandwidth-intensive services to end users.
To complement the NGNBN, a wireless broadband network has also been deployed in key catchment areas around Singapore: [email protected] allows end users to enjoy indoor and outdoor wireless broadband access in public areas. As part of the Singapore government’s Smart Nation vision, it is currently exploring the concept of a nationwide heterogeneous network (HetNet), which will allow devices to stay seamlessly connected throughout Singapore by hopping automatically across wireless networks, such as cellular and Wi-Fi networks. In this regard, the IMDA has worked with local mobile network operators and other industry players to conduct trials to validate the technologies and capabilities of HetNet, beginning from 2015.Data protection
Is there a specific data protection regime applicable to the communications sector?
The IMDA has prescribed specific rules for the telecommunication sector. Section 3.2.6 of the TCC contains provisions that govern the use of end-user service information by all FBO and SBO licensees. Different provisions may apply, depending on whether the licensee is dealing with a business end user or a residential end user. The IMDA’s standard licence conditions also include provisions requiring licensees to ensure the confidentiality of customer information.
On a more general level, the PDPA established a baseline standard of data protection for all private sector organisations in Singapore. The PDPA also established a ‘Do Not Call’ registry that allows individuals to register their Singapore telephone numbers to opt out of receiving telemarketing calls and messages. The PDPA imposes data protection obligations on organisations that collect, use or disclose personal data in Singapore. Among other things, organisations are required to obtain an individual’s consent before collecting, using or disclosing his or her personal data, unless an exception in the PDPA applies. Other obligations under the PDPA include requiring organisations to:
- make a reasonable effort to ensure that personal data they collect is accurate and complete if the personal data is likely to be used by the organisation to make a decision that affects the individual or is likely to be disclosed by the organisation to another organisation; and
- make reasonable security arrangements to prevent unauthorised access, collection, use, disclosure, copying, modification, disposal or similar risks.
The Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC), which is responsible for administering the PDPA, has also issued a set of advisory guidelines that specifically aims to address certain unique circumstances faced by the telecommunication sector in complying with the PDPA.
The PDPA is not intended to override sector-specific data protection frameworks. To the extent of any inconsistency between the provisions of the PDPA and the provisions of other written laws, the latter will prevail. Also, the PDPA’s provisions on data protection do not affect any obligation imposed by or under the law (except for contractual obligations), which may include regulatory obligations imposed under other written laws. Hence, licensees will need to ensure that they comply with any sector-specific obligations such as the TCC, as well as the general framework under the PDPA.Cybersecurity
Is there specific legislation or regulation in place concerning cybersecurity or network security in your jurisdiction?
The primary legislative framework governing cybersecurity in Singapore is the Cybersecurity Act. On 31 August 2018, the Cybersecurity Act (except for sections 24 to 35 and the Second Schedule) came into effect. The Cybersecurity (Critical Information Infrastructure) Regulations 2018 and Cybersecurity (Confidential Treatment of Information) Regulations 2018 also came into operation on the same date.
Broadly, the Cybersecurity Act:
- creates a framework for the protection of designated CII against cybersecurity threats;
- provides for the appointment of the Commissioner of Cybersecurity (Commissioner) and other officers for the administration of the Cybersecurity Act;
- authorises the taking of measures to prevent, manage and respond to cybersecurity threats and incidents in Singapore; and
- once the remaining provisions come into effect, will establish a licensing framework for providers of licensable cybersecurity services in Singapore; specifically, managed security operations centre monitoring services and penetration testing services.
Under the Cybersecurity Act, the Commissioner is empowered to issue codes of practice and standards of performance to ensure the cybersecurity of CII. Pursuant to these powers, the Commissioner has issued the Cybersecurity Code of Practice for Critical Information Infrastructure.
The Cybersecurity Act provides for the regulation of CII in 11 critical sectors. CII is defined as a computer or computer system that is necessary for the continuous delivery of an essential service, the loss or compromise of which will lead to a debilitating effect on the availability of the essential service in Singapore. The 11 critical sectors containing essential services from which CII may be designated include the info-communications and media sectors.
The Cybersecurity Act will operate alongside the patchwork of existing legislation and various self-regulatory or co-regulatory codes that promote cybersecurity, including but not limited to the following:
- the Computer Misuse Act (Cap. 50A) (CMA), which criminalises certain cyber activities such as hacking, denial-of-service attacks, infection of computer systems with malware, the possession or use of hardware, software or other tools to commit offences under the CMA, and other acts preparatory to or in furtherance of the commission of any offence under the CMA;
- the PDPA and the regulations issued thereunder, which impose certain obligations on organisations to make ‘reasonable security arrangements’ to prevent unauthorised access, collection, use, disclosure, copying, modification, disposal or similar risks concerning personal data held or processed by those organisations. The PDPC has issued general guides that, while not legally binding, provide greater clarity on, for instance, the types of reasonable security arrangements that can be adopted by organisations in the protection of personal data. These general guides include:
- the Guide to Managing and Notifying Data Breaches Under the PDPA (the Data Breach Guide);
- the Guide to Data Protection by Design for ICT Systems;
- the Guide to Securing Personal Data in Electronic Medium (the Securing Personal Data Guide); and
- the Guide on Building Websites for SMEs; and
- sector-specific codes of practice, such as the Telecommunication Cybersecurity Code of Practice formulated by the IMDA, which is imposed on major internet service providers in Singapore and includes security incident management requirements.
Is there specific legislation or regulation in place, and have there been any enforcement initiatives in your jurisdiction, addressing the legal challenges raised by big data?
In Singapore, there is no legislation or regulation that specifically deals with big data per se. Rather, companies involved in big-data-related activities must ensure that they comply with existing data protection laws and regulatory frameworks as may be applicable, such as the PDPA and the Cybersecurity Act.Data localisation
Are there any laws or regulations that require data to be stored locally in the jurisdiction?
There is no overarching law or regulation that requires data, in general, to be stored locally in Singapore. The PDPA does not require personal data to be stored locally in Singapore. Nonetheless, organisations that wish to transfer personal data outside of Singapore would need to ensure that they fulfil certain requirements under the PDPA and its accompanying regulations, before such personal data may be transferred outside Singapore. Furthermore, specific types of data may be the subject of regulatory obligations requiring that they be stored in Singapore. For example, licensed telecom operators may be required to store call detail records in Singapore pursuant to their licence conditions.Key trends and expected changes
Summarise the key emerging trends and hot topics in communications regulation in your jurisdiction.Converged competition code for telecommunication and media markets
On 5 January 2021, the IMDA launched its second public consultation to seek views on the draft converged competition code for the telecoms and media markets. At present, competition and market-related matters in the telecoms and media sectors are governed separately by two different codes of practice. In line with the IMDA’s role as a converged regulator, it has decided to review both codes of practice with the aim of merging the two frameworks and develop a harmonised converged competition code for both markets.
Call for Proposal for 5G networks
On 17 October 2019, the IMDA launched a Call for Proposal (CFP) to invite proposals for the award of 5G spectrum lots from the four existing mobile network operators (Singtel, StarHub, M1 and TPG) to facilitate the rollout of 5G mobile networks by 2020. The CFP concluded on 24 June 2020 with Singtel and a joint venture consortium formed by StarHub and M1 obtaining the Final Awards from IMDA to deploy nationwide 5G Standalone networks which are complemented by localised mmWave deployments. TPG has applied for and was allocated a mmWave spectrum to rollout localised 5G networks.
Amendments to the PDPA
On 2 November 2020, the Singapore Parliament passed the Personal Data Protection (Amendment) Bill 2020 following the first comprehensive review of the PDPA since its enactment in 2012. The amendments to the PDPA, which will take effect in phases, introduced several significant changes such as:
- a mandatory data breach notification regime for data breaches;
- new exceptions to the consent obligation (legitimate interests exception and business improvement exception);
- an expansion of the concept of deemed consent (deemed consent by notification and deemed consent by contractual necessity);
- new offences for the:
- mishandling of personal data;
- knowing or reckless unauthorised use of personal data; and
- knowing or reckless unauthorised re-identification of anonymised data; and
- higher financial penalties (from a maximum of S$1 million previously, to up to a maximum of 10 per cent of the organisation’s annual turnover in Singapore); and
- provisions on data portability.
Most of the changes under the Amendment Act came into effect on 1 February 2021, while several other provisions (specifically provisions relating to the enhanced financial penalty and data portability) will only come into force at a later date, no earlier than 1 February 2022.
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Give the date on which the information above is accurate.
The information provided in this guide is accurate as of 20 March 2020.