The value of a fine — Conrad Raj
MAY 21 — I am glad SingTel clarified that it took full responsibility for the irritating disruptions during mioTV’s live telecasts the previous week of the final-day matches of the English Premier League.
Screens froze, were pixellated or simply went blank, especially during crucial and riveting moments of the matches involving the two Manchester clubs — Manchester City vs Queens Park Rangers and Manchester United vs Sunderland.
SingTel’s explanation last Monday, when it apologised to viewers, was: Too many viewers were switching between the two channels showing the games. “The switching volumes were five times higher than the previous peaks. This surge caused our system to slow and led to viewing problems for some customers,” Yuen Kuan Moon, the SingTel consumer group’s chief executive officer, was quoted as saying.
Which leads one to ask, what sort of capacity or capability was mioTV working on?
And, while SingTel said it was “moving urgently” to enhance the switching system, this was not the first time mioTV screens have frozen during telecasts, especially live screenings. What action had mioTV taken following previous complaints? The problems have continued.
I would have thought all our consumer boards and providers of services like transport, broadcasting and telephony would be working to provide for maximum loads, like our power supply system does.
If mioTV had catered for only a proportion of its 368,000 subscribers, in the belief that not everyone would be switching channels, how were individual subscribers going to know that their switching from one channel to another would result in system failure?
Compared with the cable services of neighbouring countries, the services of mioTV and its rival, StarHub, are not particularly cheap, so viewers would expect and demand the best possible service. So subscribers’ ire, in response to SingTel’s initial comments, was understandable.
Responding on Thursday to a reader’s letter, SingTel, through Yuen, made clear that the fault was entirely the company’s and that it did not blame viewers, and it again promised to provide further enhancements to the system.
He said: “The intense channel switching was understandable and we anticipated a surge, but not of this magnitude. We explained the channel switching to clarify why our system was slow and affected the viewing experience of some customers.
“We take this incident seriously and are making enhancements to our switching system to ensure future peaks are accommodated and the viewing experience is up to the standards expected by our customers.”
Viewers would want a guarantee of this. After all, there have been previous promises to improve mioTV’s service. The priority should be to find a solution and move on.
Two years ago, the Media Development Authority (MDA) imposed a S$50,000 (RM120,000) penalty when the cable provider’s service broke down for 10 hours and affected more than 10,000 subscribers. It is questionable what fining Singapore’s largest listed company alone would achieve. The MDA has to obtain a proper assurance from SingTel that it will spend money to ensure consumers enjoy uninterrupted service.
The Land Transport Authority last week said it would review its penalties for breakdowns and other failures by our public transport operators. There should be a similar review of our other public service providers, including our cable and telephony network providers.
But increasing fines alone will not completely soothe customers, as they would perceive it as taking from one hand and putting it in the other, given that nearly all our public service providers are government-linked. The penalties should be more geared towards compensating aggrieved customers.
SingTel has promised to apologise to affected customers and offer a goodwill gesture. It is better than nothing.
Singapore appears to be the only country in the world where competition seems to result in poorer service and higher rates. Perhaps it is because of the nature of the competition: The parent of both SingTel and its main competitor in providing cable services, StarHub, is state-linked Temasek Holdings.
The Competition Commission of Singapore has raised its head previously to deal with and fine the likes of pest control operators and concert ticket seller Sistic. Perhaps its view on the matter would help.
It is also time the government reviewed competition and public services here, lest our reputation for service excellence and efficiency be further tarnished. — Today
* Conrad Raj is Today’s editor-at-large.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.