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IDA, MDA restructuring to create new entities (Amended)

Move to capitalise on converging ICT and media sectors; govt wants to ensure regulatory framework is ahead or at least in time with the development of the industry

"The existing laws will remain in place and as we converge, we will see how best we can retain them and improve the regulatory frameworks so that we can have growth in this area." - Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information, who said the government was looking to amend the Broadcasting Act


THE Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) and the Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) will be restructured in response to the convergence of the infocomm technology (ICT) and media sectors.

IDA's telecom regulatory and policy making powers will be vested with MDA which will be reorganised as IMDA (Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore). The Government Technology Organisation (GTO) will take over IDA's current role as infrastructure developer and gatekeeper of new technologies for the government.

IMDA and GTO will be up and running by the start of the new financial year, on April 1. Legislation to give them regulatory and other powers is expected to come along by the second half of this calendar year. It is expected that 400 or so of IDA's employees would move to IMDA while the rest will form the core of GTO.

The Personal Data Protection Commission will come under IMDA to ensure that consumers' data is protected even as it is being analysed.

Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information, said on Monday that IMDA would deepen regulator capabilities for a converged infocomm media sector, "safeguarding the interests of consumers and fostering pro-enterprise regulations". IMDA will help implement the Infocomm Media 2025 plan, which was launched in August last year.

MDA chief executive Gabriel Lim will head IMDA while IDA managing director Jacqueline Poh will head GTO.

Dr Yaacob told The Business Times that by restructuring IDA and MDA, the government wanted to ensure that the regulatory framework was ahead or at least in time with the development of the industry. He added that it would take some time to bring the two agencies together but the "work will continue at the ground level".

"Whether you like it or not, convergence will take place and a converged environment will come up because that is how the businesses are operating now and how the consumer is taking content and content is being delivered on different screens and so the environment is changing and we need to do something about it."

He noted that businesses are already offering a bundle of services encompassing telecoms and media, so they have to go to IDA for telecoms and MDA for broadcast.

On GTO, the minister said that there was a need for talent within the government to lead the transformation into a Smart Nation. "The role of GTO is to nurture the right talent for the Smart Nation initiative. At the same time, it will ensure that government digital services are ahead of the curve. IDA led the charge for the ICT initiative. That part of the work will be taken up with GTO."

GTO will also continue to ensure the resilience and cybersecurity of government infrastructure.

Dr Yaacob said: "As we evolve in this new converged authority, we will have to look at the legislation a bit more closely. For example, in terms of businesses how do we license them? Do we license them as separate entities or a single entity in the converged space? At the moment, businesses bundle their services both in the telecoms and media sectors."

He added that the government was looking to amend the Broadcasting Act. "The existing laws will remain in place and as we converge, we will see how best we can retain them and improve the regulatory frameworks so that we can have growth in this area."

The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) told BT that IDA and MDA have lined up a series of policy initiatives this year, including amendments to the Films Act, Broadcasting Act and Telecommunications Act, as well as an auction for new spectrum. The restructuring will not affect their rollout, MCI said.

Welcoming the changes, Shirley Wong, chairman of the Singapore infocomm Technology Federation, said that they would play a critical role in ensuring the success of the Infocomm Media Masterplan 2025 and Singapore's Smart Nation initiative.

She added that greater clarification was needed on the impact of the new organisations on industry.

Matt Pollins, technology and media lawyer at law firm Olswang Asia, which specialises in technology, media and telecoms, said that the move mirrors what is happening in regulation around the world. "Convergence is here, and the line between technology and media has evaporated. It is increasingly acknowledged at an international level that a converged media and technology landscape needs a converged regulator."

He added that in the UK, for example, Ofcom's (the communications regulator) remit already spans communications and media. "Ultimately, this comes down to the consumers. Consumers no longer draw a line between media and technology - for them, it is about great platforms, services and content. In this context, a converged regulator makes sense."

Singtel Group CEO Chua Sock Koong said: "Technological advances have hastened the convergence of the telecommunications and broadcast industries, totally changing the way our customers communicate as well as consume media."

She noted that as a telecoms company striving to lead and shape the new digital economy, Singtel had to manage the challenges of the fast-paced and complex nature of infocomm and media convergence. "This merger of IDA and MDA will certainly help accelerate our innovation efforts. Being more optimally structured, the new IMDA is well-positioned to drive the national innovation agenda and ensure a consistent regulatory framework. This is great news for the industry and for consumers."

On GTO, she said: "We are also very encouraged by the formation of the new GTO and look forward to continue to be a strategic partner in the government's drive to further Singapore's Smart Nation vision. With our deep ICT experience, cybersecurity and Big Data capabilities, the Singtel group can play a vital role in making Singapore's Smart Nation ambitions a reality."

StarHub CEO Tan Tong Hai added: "It is no longer possible to draw a clear line between the info-communications and media spaces. The 'hubbing' of IDA and MDA is certainly moving in the right direction, especially as Singapore evolves into a Smart Nation."

Teo Lay Lim, Accenture senior managing director of Asean and Singapore managing director, said: "With this, MCI ensures that we stay market relevant and can be proactive in a seamless and effective way. GTO demonstrates our commitment to stay in a leadership position globally, to be at the forefront of technological innovation and adoption that will help transform how citizens and businesses work and live as we strive towards our Smart Nation ambition."

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Both the MDA and IDA have been reorganised - and not just renamed - as IMDA and GTO. The article has been amended to reflect this.