Enhancing quality of life for our people

10/03/2014

RESPONSE BY MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION AT THE COMMITTEE OF SUPPLY DEBATE ON 10 MAR 2014

 

Introduction

               Our goal is to ensure that the benefits of a vibrant information, infocomm, media, and design ecosystem improves the quality of life for all Singaporeans. And I thank honourable members who share this vision.

Digital inclusion

2              An inclusive society is an important priority for this government, a point raised by Mr Vikram Nair and Mr David Ong. For my Ministry, this means that all segments of society are part of the digital and information revolution. In this respect we have been implementing various initiatives which I like to share with the house.

Next phase of Silver Infocomm Initiative

3              Let me begin with our elderly population or seniors. IDA is helping them to acquire infocomm skills through the Silver Infocomm Initiative. The initiative has been very well-received. Over the last seven years, seniors have signed up for about 85,000 training places for IT courses and workshops.

4              These two elderly gentlemen; Mr Soh Chwee Paw, on the left and his younger brother Mr Soh Chuee Wan on the right, are beneficiaries of this Initiative. They were initially hesitant to join IT classes because they were concerned about not being able to keep up with the lessons.

5              This changed when the younger Mr Soh heard about computer classes under the Silver Infocomm Initiative that were tailored for seniors and conducted by seniors. Together, they attended the Basic Computer Course held at one of IDA’s Silver Infocomm Junction. Elder Mr Soh said that “having such classes dedicated to seniors is great because it has allowed us to learn at a similar pace with our peers”.

6              We will intensify our efforts and provide more opportunities for IT-savvy senior citizens to help and train their peers. In September 2013, IDA partnered with the Organisation of Senior Volunteers (or RSVP) and The Council for Third Age to launch the Silver IT Care Programme. Under this programme, seniors run an IT helpdesk to assist other seniors in solving infocomm-related problems and queries. We currently have 33 senior volunteers for the Silver IT Care Programme and many more seniors have expressed interest to help man the helpdesk. I hope this will inspire more seniors to adopt infocomm technologies.

Introduction of Two More Mini Mollies

7              Our libraries have also been reaching out to low-income households and disadvantaged groups, an issue Mr Arthur Fong raised.

8              Many Members will be familiar with the mobile library or MOLLY, as it is affectionately known. MOLLY has been in operation since 2008. Last year, MOLLY reached out to 75 organisations, bringing the library to childcare centres, special needs schools, orphanages and welfare homes..

9              One student who has benefited tremendously from MOLLY is 10 year-old Muhammad Danish from Rainbow Centre Yishun Park School. Danish was once very shy but now, he has become more expressive as he talks about the books he has read. By making books more accessible, MOLLY has helped Danish build his confidence and social skills, and I am told he has blossomed into quite a storyteller himself. But the existing MOLLY cannot reach as many locations as the NLB would like to, due to its size.

10            I am pleased to share that NLB will be rolling out two mini Mollies later this year. This is made possible with the kind donation of the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple. The new Mollies will be smaller than the original one seen in this picture and will be able to better navigate tight spaces, particularly in facilities with narrow driveways. With the two new mini Mollies, we will be able to visit 160 more organisations, and increase library visitorship by almost 50,000 in the coming year.

10th Anniversary of kidsREAD

11            NLB also recognises the importance of promoting reading, more so amongst children from disadvantaged backgrounds. One such programme is kidsREAD, which will celebrate its 10th Anniversary this year.

12           kidsREAD is a community effort led by NLB, in partnership with the People’s Association, self-help and community groups. It nurtures reading habits among children from low-income families. With the help of over 7,000 volunteers in the reading clubs across the island, about 20,000 children have benefitted from kidsREAD for the last nine years. The programme has helped encourage these children to read more and strengthen their use of English.

13           The kidsREAD programme was originally structured as a one year programme for each child. Last year, NLB recognised the importance of kidsREAD and with the support of its stakeholders, expanded it to a 5-year programme. With the expanded programme, we have introduced more reading activities to engage each child for a longer period.

14           The expanded kidsREAD has been successful thanks to the dedication of our kidsREAD volunteers. One such volunteer is 16 year-old student Ong Jia Ying from Compassvale Secondary School who has volunteered for two years. She shared that she gets a sense of accomplishment and is inspired to do more when she sees the children showing improvements in their command of English. I’m heartened that Jia Ying really enjoys the time she spends reading and interacting with the children.

15           This year, with kidsREAD celebrating its 10th anniversary, I would like to take the opportunity to express my gratitude to the dedicated volunteers who make this programme possible. NLB will continue to engage its volunteers meaningfully, so that they will have fulfilling volunteers experience, and help kidsREAD continue to bring the joy of reading to more children.

ManyWaysOfSeeing Design Programme to Foster Creativity in Children

16           Besides helping children develop a love for reading, we also want to nurture their creativity. Since 2004, the DesignSingapore Council has been organising a programme called ManyWaysofSeeing. Over the years, some 1,200 children and over 300 teachers have attended the various workshops under this programme and found the experience inspiring.

17           In 2012, the Council created a series of awareness programmes and Train-the-Trainers programme for pre-school educators to bring the programme to more children. This year, the Council will pilot a Master Class for past participants of the Train-the-Trainers programme. The Master Class will help our pre-school educators go beyond just conducting one-off workshops to developing a curriculum based on the ManyWaysOfSeeing approach. They will also be trained as mentors and advocates for the ManyWaysOfSeeing programme.

18           One of the more popular installations the pre-school educators learn to co-create with children is “The Spirit Garden”. This set of sensory-based design workshops for children aged 5 to 7 was developed together with Professor Masayo Ave, a senior designer based in Berlin. The workshops help children appreciate the designer’s way of observing, drawing, and composing. This is achieved through the children working with the facilitator to create “The Spirit Garden”, a unique art work. This workshop has been beneficial, and one parent, Mrs Angeline Sim, shared on her blog that “this is an excellent initiative to sensitise kids to the beautiful world around us and to nurture their budding creativity.”

Arrival of digital TV

19           TV has always been an important source of entertainment and information for our people. On 16 December 2013, MediaCorp commenced transmission of all seven Free-to-Air (FTA) Channels in digital format, in addition to analogue signals. MediaCorp is also progressively rolling out the digital TV network to provide good indoor coverage of the digital TV signals.

20           Digital TV will enhance our TV-watching experience with higher quality images and surround sound. Audiences can access electronic TV guides to keep track of their favourite programme. The move to digital TV will also free up valuable radio frequencies so that we can offer Singaporeans new and better mobile services.

Digital TV Assistance Scheme

21           Last year, I shared that while we work to improve the TV-watching experience for Singaporeans, we will ensure that low-income households can also benefit from digital TV. Mr David Ong asked for an update to this plan. I am happy to announce that we will provide low-income households with an Assistance Package to help them access FTA TV. This package will comprise a DVB-T2 digital set-top box and an indoor antenna, and will be installed by an MDA-appointed contractor.

22           This assistance scheme will be launched by September this year. A key group of low-income households that we need to assist are those who live in one or two room rental flats, or who are on relevant ComCare assistance schemes including the Public Assistance Scheme. We will be working with HDB and MSF to include these households automatically on the scheme.

23           Besides this group, we will also make the assistance scheme available to households with a monthly income of $1,900 and below, or per capita income of $600 and below. For households with no income, we will extend the package to them if the annual value of their residence is $13,000 and below. Households must have at least one Singaporean member in order to qualify. Those who have Pay-TV subscription or Integrated Digital TV will not be eligible for the assistance scheme, as they can already access digital TV through these channels. With this, 160,000 to 170,000 low-income Singaporean households will qualify for the assistance scheme.

24           Community involvement will be important for the digital switchover. MDA will be working with the community to inform residents on the availability of digital TV in their estates and how to switch over to digital TV. Grassroots leaders will also be engaged to reach out to and assist the low-income households who qualify for the Assistance Scheme.

Internet accessibility for the low-income

25           Our move to help the low-income will not stop here. In today’s connected world, the Internet has become a fundamental utility to businesses and individuals. We are taking steps to make important telecoms services like broadband Internet more accessible and affordable for the low-income. We are also looking into enhancing our Digital Inclusion initiatives. These will be made public in due course.

Protecting consumer rights and interests

Media Consumer Protection Measures

26           Mr Vikram Nair highlighted concerns faced by Pay TV consumers regarding unfair terms in their subscription contracts. To address these concerns, MDA will be reviewing the Media Market Conduct Code, with a view to introducing additional consumer protection measures for Pay TV subscription services by the end of the year. MDA will conduct a public consultation on these measures over the next few months.

27           One area MDA will address is concerns arising from Pay TV operators changing the terms of contracts without the consumer’s consent. This is a problem especially when the new terms are not to the consumer’s benefit, for example an increase in price or the removal of a channel or important programme. When consumers wish to exit their contracts in such situations, they currently have to pay exit penalties. Occasionally, subscribers are required to upgrade their non-Pay TV services, for example broadband services, when they change their Pay TV services. These upgrades are typically not necessary to support the changes in the Pay TV services. MDA is reviewing the possibility of disallowing such practices.

28           At the same time, MDA is planning to require retailers to brief consumers on important details of their contracts, including package price and content, before selling these packages to consumers. MDA will balance these consumer protection measures against the cost imposed on the industry.

29           For contracts of telecommunications services, IDA will also be reviewing if similar enhancements are necessary, and will conduct public consultations when ready.

Personal data protection

30           I thank Mr Patrick Tay for his views on the Personal Data Protection Act or PDPA.

31           I understand that the Personal Data Protection Commission (or PDPC) has received queries from organisations and the public on the application of its Exemption Order as well as issues of obtaining consent for photography under the PDPA. The Exemption Order that came into effect on 2 January 2014 applies to every sector, including the Real Estate sector. However, the PDPC recognises that each sector has unique circumstances.

32           Therefore, PDPC will conduct a series of public consultations on sector-specific Advisory Guidelines to clarify these issues. The consultation exercises for Real Estate and Telecommunication sectors were the first ones to be launched and now that the consultation has closed, I understand that PDPC is finalising the guidelines. PDPC will also conduct consultation on guidelines to provide greater clarity on how photographs may be collected, used and disclosed, a point raised by Mr Patrick Tay.

33           On the issue of research, organisations should generally seek consent from the individual to use his personal data. Where it is not practical for consent to be sought, the PDPA allows organisations, under limited criteria in the regulations, to use the personal data without consent.

34           The PDPA, which comes into full effect on 2 July this year, recognises both the rights of individuals to protect their personal data and the needs of organisations to collect, use and disclose such data. Should organisations require clarifications on its application, they can approach PDPC.

Conclusion

35           To conclude, I would like to reiterate that the government is committed to enhance the quality of life for our people, including the young, the old and the disadvantaged in our country.

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