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Net neutrality: S'pore stance similar to US

Straits Times
22 Dec 2017
Lester Hio

Experts say some form of Internet traffic slowdown is allowed here - but only under certain conditions

Even as American regulators decided last week to repeal rules that ensure Internet service providers (ISPs) do not create "fast and slow lanes" for online traffic, Singapore's take on the issue shares some similarities with that of the United States.

Legal and Internet experts said that Singapore does not strictly follow the definition of what is called Net neutrality.

Adopting Net neutrality principles means ISPs should not make access to certain websites slower on purpose, or charge users extra to access specific online content.

On Dec 14, the US' telecoms and Internet regulator, the Federal Communications Commission, voted to repeal Net neutrality rules implemented in 2015. The removal of the rules is expected to happen only later, if other American lawmakers do not block the move.

Singapore's position on such rules is that it allows some form of Internet traffic slowdown - similar to what is expected in the US - but only under certain conditions, said the Internet Society's regional bureau director for Asia-Pacific, Mr Rajnesh Singh.

Ms Tanya Tang, chief economic and policy adviser at law firm Rajah & Tann, said the revised US position on Net neutrality is "very similar" to the position currently taken by Singapore's Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA), which regulates telecoms and Internet policy here.

"Today, there is already no prohibition in Singapore against throttling or paid prioritisation, where these do not harm competition or end users' interests," said Ms Tang.

So, she does not foresee the US decision having a significant impact on ISPs in Singapore.

IMDA said there are no plans to revise its current stance on Net neutrality, which was put out in a White Paper in 2011.

Throttling, or slowing down the Internet speeds of users, is possible but, unlike in the US, can be done only under specific scenarios such as managing Internet traffic.

This can entail slowing down the speeds of heavy Internet users who hog so much bandwidth that other Web users experience slowdowns.

Singapore has some of the fastest broadband speeds in the world. In the latest November rankings on US-based Ookla's Net Index, Singapore came in first among 133 countries and territories for the fastest average broadband surfing speeds.

ISPs here also cannot block "legitimate Internet content", which means they can block only websites considered unlawful by Singapore law, such as pornographic or remote gambling websites. Throttling to the extent that users are practically unable to access websites or the Internet is also not allowed here.

For now, such conditions are not spelt out for the US, in the absence of Net neutrality. But American ISPs must publicly disclose any blocking or throttling.

The US' consumer watchdog, the Federal Trade Commission, will also enforce anti-trust laws against ISPs that run afoul of anti-competitive behaviour to curb abuse of blocking or throttling. This could be similar to how IMDA has fair competition guidelines.

In Singapore, ISPs can offer customised plans in which services like WhatsApp or Spotify do not count towards a monthly data cap - a practice also found in the US and Britain.

But Singapore differs from the US because bandwidth here is not as big an issue, said Nanyang Technological University communications professor Ang Peng Hwa.

"We have the capacity to handle data demands so that there is no need to throttle one service in order to facilitate another service," he said. "This is not the case in the US where there are parts (of the country) that do not even have mobile data coverage."


Throttling, or slowing down the Internet speeds of users, is possible but, unlike in the US, can be done only under specific scenarios such as managing Internet traffic.

This can entail slowing down the speeds of heavy Internet users who hog so much bandwidth that other Web users experience slowdowns.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.