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New mediation scheme to be launched for telcos and customers to resolve disputes

SINGAPORE — A dispute resolution scheme will be launched in April to help work out issues that customers are unable to resolve directly with their telecommunication providers. 

Telcos will have to publish their consumer complaint statistics regularly, starting from the first half of this year.
Telcos will have to publish their consumer complaint statistics regularly, starting from the first half of this year.

SINGAPORE — A dispute resolution scheme will be launched in April to help work out issues that customers are unable to resolve directly with their telecommunication providers. 

Telcos will also have to publish their consumer complaint statistics regularly, starting from the first half of this year.

These new measures were announced by Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo in Parliament on Friday (March 4) during a debate on her ministry's budget.

This Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Scheme was co-developed by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and the Singapore Mediation Centre, and will be administered by the latter. It serves as a supplementary platform for consumers and small businesses if they are not able to resolve disputes directly with service providers.

"When a case is brought to the ADR, it will be mandatory for service providers to participate in the resolution process," said Mrs Teo, who described existing dispute resolution options as "costly and less consumer-friendly". 

According to IMDA, the ADR Scheme covers issues with a maximum dispute value of up to S$10,000, relating to all telco and media services such as mobile services, fibre connection services and subscription TV services. The dispute must have occurred within the past year.

However, the scheme does not cover other services like billing on behalf of app store purchases and over-the-top media streaming services.

"Most complaints that IMDA received relate to billing matters (for example, disputes over charges, waiver requests), operators’ quality of service including customer service," said the agency's spokesperson.

Once a case is filed by the consumer, the service provider will be given a 14-day notice period to negotiate and resolve the dispute first, before a formal dispute resolution process under the scheme kicks in.

Consumers and small businesses will have to co-pay for the two-stage resolution process, with the service provider bearing the lion’s share of the fees:

  • Mediation: Consumer pays S$10, while service provider pays S$90
  • Determination: Consumer pays S$225, while service provider forks out S$525
  • Direct determination (bypassing mediation): Both parties pay S$375 each

The process is expected to take no more than two and a half months.

For comparison, Singapore Mediation Centre currently imposes a S$214 fee on each party for up to four hours of mediation, for disputes relating to goods and services valued up to S$20,000.

The IMDA spokesperson said: "The scheme’s fee distribution ratio would help to reduce the disparity in bargaining power between customers and operators.

"With this, it is envisaged that the ADR Scheme would incentivise an improvement in operators’ handling of complaints from customers."

IMDA will also be publishing data on consumer complaints received by telco service providers with a significant subscriber base. This refers to companies which have 20,000 subscribers or more in the mobile, fixed broadband and fixed line markets.

The report will cover the number of complaints, the complaint resolution timeframe and the average hotline and live chat waiting time. The report will not cover complaints about Pay TV services.

The authorities will publish these reports quarterly, with the first one expected by the first half of this year, to provide consumers more transparency with regard to how well these companies handle complaints.

Related topics

IMDA telcos Josephine Teo consumer complaints

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