Friday, April 01, 2005

Telecom Policy Needs Work In Singapore

There is an ongoing fight between the two wireline providers in Singapore because of a basic mistake made by the regulator when monopoly telco operations were ended.

StarHub is refusing to provide service to customers in various locations around the country because of a dispute over the pricing of SingTel's circuits.

Underlying the present dispute is the larger issue that StarHub has not been given equal access to the in-ground conduits that are used to run telecom cables throughout Singapore.

SingTel enjoyed monopoly rights and unfettered access when it built the existing in-ground conduit access system that is ultimately at the heart of the dispute. Having been allowed to dig up the streets and enter every building in the country, it now is suggesting that StarHub undertake a similar task on its own.

This is not an unusual state of affairs around the world, where most countries have had to deal with an incumbent monopoly refusing to give up its privileged position, while permitting competitors to enter the market in a way that permits them to be economically feasible. SingTel was paid a considerable amount of taxpayer funds for the loss of its monopoly.

The in-ground conduits are a public good that should be for the benefit of all residents of Singapore, not for the enrichment of a single commercial enterprise. Other jurisdictions have levied usage fees on all users of in-ground conduits, reflecting society's stake in ensuring equal access.

The alternative is that we will never have meaningful competition for residential telecom services, and we will be forced to endure the wholly unnecessary duplication of the existing conduits in the form of endless road excavations and broken pavements.

SingTel should stop trying to compete by blocking competition and concentrate on providing great service at a good price. Their current behaviour does nothing to benefit the residents of Singapore.

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