Unwanted SMS services may be further restricted
IDA study in motion to ensure regulations for services are still relevant as complaints rise
by Ashley Chia
04:45 AM Jan 14, 2013
SINGAPORE - Regulations governing mobile services that charge a premium for items such as news updates, jokes and ringtones over unsolicited text messages could come under greater scrutiny as the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) is studying if requirements to the Premium Rate Services (PRS) Code need to be "further tightened".
The move is to ensure that the Code, introduced in 2007, "remains relevant to market developments", said the IDA, and comes at a time when the number of consumer complaints has risen in recent years.
Under the Code, PRS providers must clearly publish the prices, terms and conditions of their services, and take steps to authenticate and ensure that explicit purchase confirmation is received before the service is activated.
Reminder and confirmation messages must also be sent for subscription-based PRS purchases, indicating charges. Further, a customer hotline has to be maintained.
Over the last two years, eight PRS providers were found to have contravened the Code. There are currently 255 operators here with the licence to offer PRS but not all of these operators do, said the IDA.
More safeguards will also be in place when the Do Not Call (DNC) registry under the Personal Data Protection Act comes into force next year.
PRS providers can only send unsolicited marketing messages only if it has either obtained clear and unambiguous consent from the individual concerned, or have checked with the DNC register to ensure that the telephone number is not registered with the registry.
Last year, the IDA received 379 PRS-related complaints, more than double the 156 cases in 2010. In 2011, there were 320 of such complaints.
The majority of complaints received involved "disputes which arose because consumers did not read carefully the terms and conditions about the services, including the charges, before subscribing to the services", an IDA spokesperson said.
Since February last year, the authority has required mobile operators to allow their subscribers the option of barring PRS, which is to be offered free when requested for the first time.
Once activated, the consumer will be barred from subscribing and receiving chargeable PRS, and in the event of accidental subscription, will not be billed for them.
To date, close to 50,000 end-users here have taken up the offer - an "encouraging" number, said the IDA, as it "shows that there are consumers who are aware of the service and wish to take it up".
However, Mr T Lau, an IT sales manager, was billed S$64 for 10 outgoing text messages to a PRS service he said he did not subscribe to. The 50-year-old filed a police report on Dec 27 last year for the unauthorised transactions.
A SingTel spokesperson said the telco has received "some isolated feedback" from its customers regarding the PRS charges which they have incurred with the PRS provider.
"As SingTel is billing on behalf of the content provider, we assist our customers should there be disputes over charges by highlighting their case with the respective content provider and tracking the progress on their behalf," he said. "We would advise our customers to ignore and delete SMS text messages from unfamiliar numbers if in doubt."
Telco StarHub said the number of inquiries it received on PRS is "relatively low". "Most of these customers have contacted us to obtain the hotline number of their PRS provider," said a StarHub spokesperson.
The IDA stipulates that mobile operators are required to assist subscribers to help resolve any dispute with PRS providers.
"Should a consumer have doubts about his phone bill, he could hold off paying the disputed amount until the dispute has been resolved, but should inform his mobile operator about the dispute before payment is due," said the IDA spokesperson.