16 June 2011 - Keynote Address By Ms Aileen Chia, Deputy Director-General (Telecoms & Post), Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, at the Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum
Keynote Address By Ms Aileen Chia, Deputy Director-General (Telecoms & Post), Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, at the Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum 16 June 2011
Professor Ang Peng Hwa, Director of the Singapore Internet
Research Center, Nanyang Technological University
Mr Edmon Chung, CEO of DotAsia Organisation
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. I am glad to be here today for the opening of the Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum 2011. This is indeed an opportune time to bring together experts and leaders from the private and public sectors, and the technical and academic communities, to exchange ideas and gather fresh insights on Internet governance, given the pervasive and profound changes brought about by the Internet in recent years.
2. Since the commercialisation of the Internet in the 1990s, there are now over two billion users of the Internet world-wide. In Singapore, the household broadband penetration rate exceeded 80% in 2010 with both fixed-line and wireless broadband access subscriptions growing. More significantly, Internet user habits have altered with the proliferation of smartphones and wireless devices. A global research found that more than two-thirds of all mobile phones used in Singapore are smartphones, and this is in a society where mobile population penetration rate stands at 145%. This trend of accessing Internet anytime, anywhere and on-the-move is here to stay, contributing to the huge growth in Internet traffic. In fact, from 2009 to 2010 alone, total international Internet bandwidth used by telecom operators in Singapore almost doubled from around 440 Gbps in 2009 to over 830 Gbps in 2010.
3. Indeed, we find ourselves in an era of exciting and exponential change enabled by the Internet. This 'network of networks' plays a key role in the Singapore economy and society today, used for electronic commerce, e-learning, entertainment, communications, media and more. The Singapore government has always recognised the economic and social benefits of the Internet, and has implemented key programmes over the years to ensure that our citizens and businesses are able to exploit the advantages of going online.
4. For example, at the infrastructure level, Singapore has embarked on the deployment of a nationwide fibre-to-the-home network, or Next Gen NBN, which will cover the entire country by 2012. The Next Gen NBN will provide ultra-high speed broadband access of up to 1 Gbps, connecting homes, schools and businesses to the Internet highway. IDA also launched Wireless@SG in 2006, which provides free wireless broadband access with speeds of up to 1 Mbps at public locations. Today, there are over 7,500 WiFi hotspots all over the island allowing students, tourists, business travellers and Internet users to go online anytime, anywhere. Our local infrastructure is complemented by our excellent global connectivity. Singapore today is one of the world's most internationally connected countries with no less than 15 submarine cable systems landed in Singapore and 8 Tbps of submarine cable capacity connecting us with the rest of the world.
5. While we have put in place the physical infrastructure to enable access to the Internet, we have also not neglected the 'soft' policies that are critical to encourage adoption of Internet broadband services. One of IDA's key policy frameworks underpinning the development of a vibrant Internet access market is the facilitation of competition to bring about a wider variety of Internet service packages and lower prices for consumers and businesses. Today, users in Singapore can choose from a wide range of Internet broadband services offered by various service providers, whether over the Next Gen NBN fibre network, or over the ADSL, coaxial cable or mobile platforms. Such competition among the service providers has resulted in falling prices. For example, a 100 Mbps Internet broadband service over the Next Gen NBN network start from as low as S$39 today, down from S$70 to S$100 for similar offerings over the ADSL or cable networks one to two years ago.
6. Even with the plethora of Internet broadband services and competitive prices, some members of our society may not be able to fully leverage the benefits of the Internet. Hence, we have implemented a series of digital inclusion efforts to equip the disadvantaged, empower the disabled, and engage the elderly. For example, our NEU PC programme aims to equip poorer households with computers. Students and the disabled from such low-income households can purchase subsidised new computers bundled with three years of free Internet broadband access and software. Our Silver Infocomm initiative, which aims to promote IT awareness and literacy among senior citizens, includes nine Silver Infocomm Junctions islandwide, which offer affordable infocomm training and a customised curriculum for them. By March 2013, 100 Silver Infocomm Hotspots will be set up island wide for all senior citizens to have convenient and free access to computers and Internet services.
7. As can be seen from some of the programmes and initiatives I've just mentioned, government policies play a key role in facilitating the development of the Internet, and in ensuring that our consumers and businesses can reap the full benefits of connecting to the online world. It is with this context that I would like to touch on the role of government policies in Internet governance.
8. Singapore believes that a multi-stakeholder model is the most appropriate framework to address Internet governance issues, and a partnership approach where governments, industry and civil society work together to shape the development of the Internet will benefit all. Internet governance must be inclusive and responsive, and should not be the sole domain of governments.
9. Such a multi-stakeholder model has served us well, facilitating innovation and development of new Internet services and technologies by the private sector and research and educational institutions, and encouraging Internet broadband adoption among our consumers and businesses. In line with this approach, our government policies on issues related to the Internet seek to strike a balance between enabling commercial flexibility for industry players and ensuring basic safeguards to protect consumers.
10. I would like to illustrate this balanced approach with IDA's policy framework for net neutrality.
11. We have been following the debate on net neutrality in the international fora. The arguments by proponents and opponents of net neutrality are both valid. On one hand, proponents argue that completely neutral Internet access is necessary to allow innovation in services and content development to flourish, and is best for consumer interest. On the other hand, opponents assert that blanket net neutrality rules would restrict network optimisation and stifle investment in network infrastructure.
12. For IDA, the policy approach we have taken is a balanced one that allows consumers a reasonable quality of access to the Internet, and at the same time provides service providers and telecom operators with sufficient commercial flexibility to differentiate their service offerings to meet the needs of customers. Particularly with the deployment of the Next Gen NBN, we expect to see the deployment of new and innovative next generation services that might require different performance standards for internet access. These include services like interactive television, content and applications, e-learning, tele-health, and cloud computing among others. We thus take a pragmatic stance on net neutrality, which rests on three prongs.
13. The first is to enhance and promote competition among retail service providers in the market, to allow market forces to drive operator behaviour. Competition can reduce the incentives of operators to engage in discriminatory practices that restrict consumer choice in terms of what is accessible over the Internet. IDA's regulatory framework on interconnection and competition guards against such anti-competitive and discriminatory behaviour.
14. The second prong is to increase information transparency for consumers to make informed choices on internet access services. Issues like traffic management, or the discrepancies between actual and advertised Internet access speeds, have often been cited as issues that affect the Internet surfing experience, but remain opaque to consumers. In the past few years, IDA has imposed requirements on residential Internet broadband service providers to publish their network management practices, so that consumers are informed and can better choose their service providers based on their surfing needs. Recently, we mandated the Internet service providers to measure and publish typical Internet broadband speeds, in addition to advertising the theoretical maximum download speeds of their Internet broadband plans. On our own, IDA also regularly tests and publishes on our website the performance of Internet broadband services in Singapore to help consumers navigate the variety of broadband service choices in the market.
15. The third prong is to ensure that consumers enjoy a reasonable quality of access to the Internet. In this respect, IDA prohibits operators from blocking legitimate Internet content. They also cannot impose discriminatory practices, restrictions, charges or other measures which will effectively render Internet applications and content inaccessible or unusable. In addition, IDA has since 2001 imposed Quality of Service requirements on fixed-line Internet broadband services, including maximum latency prescriptions for local and international network access. I believe IDA was one of the first regulators, if not amongst the first few, in the world to do so.
16. Within this three-prong policy framework which seeks to facilitate competition and put in place minimum consumer safeguards, service providers and operators are free to innovate and differentiate their service offerings to meet changing customer needs and niche user-groups. IDA believes that such a balanced policy approach will continue to facilitate consumers' access to content and services on the Internet, while providing flexibility for service providers and operators to differentiate their services for economic efficiencies and innovation.
17. Net neutrality is, but just one of the policy issues that have arisen from the development and growth of the Internet. There are various policy questions and implications related to the Internet that grapple governments today, some of which you will be discussing over the next two days. These include Internet security, IPv4 to IPv6 transition, and data protection, among others. IDA will be taking the same balanced policy approach in addressing these issues, and very importantly, a consultative approach to engage and hear the views of key stakeholders before formulating our policy frameworks. This outreach and engagement process is a key factor for the success of the multi-stakeholder governance approach.
18. On this note, I wish you an enjoyable, insightful and fruitful discussion over these two days, and I hope that besides participating in this forum, you will find some time to also visit some places of interests in Singapore and get to experience the culture of this sunny island.
19. Thank you.