SINGAPORE: To help Singapore residents through their efforts to stay home in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19, a series of media and digital-related initiatives was announced on Wednesday (Apr 8).
These include providing more content for viewers on free-to-air channels, as well as on Singtel and StarHub's pay-TV platforms.
The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) said it will also support telcos in making investments to upgrade their networks. In addition, it will help low-income students who require digital access for home-based learning.
These initiatives come as Singapore kicked off a month-long "circuit breaker" period on Tuesday. Most workplaces are closed, schools have moved to full home-based learning and dining in at food and beverage outlets are not allowed.
A new law also came into force on Wednesday, banning social gatherings of any size in both private and public spaces, including private parties or gatherings with families or friends not living together.
"The initiatives will ensure that everyone, especially vulnerable segments including seniors and school-going children from low-income households, can go online for daily tasks and social activities," said IMDA in a media release.
"IMDA will help to ensure that all who need to can stay connected from the safety of their homes, whether for telecommuting, home-based learning, accessing information and entertainment, or staying in touch with family and friends."
Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran said: "We thought it is timely to put this out so that as people embark on the circuit breaker period, they are well-equipped to deal with some of the challenges in the changing lifestyle patterns that they have."
ENSURING A STRONG, ROBUST INTERNET EXPERIENCE
IMDA said Singapore's telecommunication infrastructure remains robust and stable with a healthy network buffer, even as Internet usage has increased since the start of the COVID-19 situation.
This stability is due to sustained investments over the years, said IMDA.
READ: Volunteers rush to deliver laptops to families in need before full home-based learning kicks in
Nevertheless, the authority said it will support the three telcos – Singtel, StarHub and M1 – in making "immediate investments" to upgrade their networks and "further bolster Singapore's nationwide network capacity".
“Our network capacity has comfortably (been) able to accommodate all the changing patterns in broadband usage,” Mr Iswaran told reporters during a virtual press conference on Wednesday, noting that data showed at least a “30 per cent” buffer in network capacity here.
Nevertheless, authorities are working with the telcos to see how further enhancements to the network capacity can be done “as soon as possible”.
He said: “We think that the significant enhancements can be achieved in probably the next 2 weeks or so.”
The upgrades are expected to support consistent network experiences at residential areas, in response to the shift in network usage from commercial and office spaces to residential areas. Capacity at potential high traffic sites will also be progressively boosted, said IMDA.
One example is the foreign worker dormitories, said Mr Iswaran, noting that this is an area that needs “additional effort” now that workers will be staying indoors and will want access to content or connect with their families back home.
A “significant proportion” of the dormitories have wifi available and for those that do not have these in place, IMDA is working with the telcos and dorm operators to put in the relevant infrastructure.
“We think that this is something that can be accomplished over the next 1 to 2 weeks,” he said.
“IMDA (will) work with telcos and dormitory operators to adapt the solution for the needs of these dormitories, depending on the prevailing conditions in the dormitories.”
MORE TV CHOICES
The authority is also working with Mediacorp, pay TV operators Singtel and StarHub, as well as other content providers to make available more news, educational and entertainment programmes across free-to-air and over-the-top platforms - across a range of languages.
Mediacorp, for instance, will extend the time belts for Suria and Vasantham channels with immediate effect, said IMDA. During this period, both channels will begin transmission from 9am daily.
Singtel will increase its total number of free preview channels to 30 starting from Thursday. Non-subscribers can also download its CAST streaming services to access the free preview channels. StarHub will increase its free preview channels to 32, starting Wednesday, for its customers.
Both operators will offer a wide range of content spanning all four national languages, ranging from premium content such as BBC Earth and Discovery to children's content like Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, and Asian content like cHK, Hub Sensasi, JiaLe, Oh!K, TVB Jade and Zee Thirai.
HELPING LOW-INCOME STUDENTS GET DIGITAL ACCESS
IMDA also said it would provide more help to those who need digital access, including low-income students who require it for home-based learning.
Enhancements have been made to the NEU PC Plus (NPP) programme, which supports such students with a subsidised computer and free fibre broadband.
READ: Singapore makes 'decisive move' to close most workplaces and impose full home-based learning for schools, says PM Lee
Since the circuit breaker measures were announced last Friday, IMDA said it has seen a more than five-time surge in the number of enquiries for the programme via email and calls through its contact centre.
The programme has helped about 4,000 to 5,000 low-income households a year since it was launched in 1999.
“We expect to support more children with the increased need for digital access with the heightened safe distancing measures,” an IMDA spokeperson told CNA.
The authority said it will speed up the provision of the NPP programme by working with the industry and community self-help groups to streamline the application process.
It will also ensure more support for students under the MOE Financial Assistance Scheme. Students will be fully supported through the iNSPIRE Fund, with no co-payment required for the computer. Existing requirements for community service will be waived for this period, said IMDA.
It would also include the option of a subsidised second computer for families with three or more school-going children.
This is because it has seen “strong demand” from lower-income families, especially those with more than one school-going child.
“For households with more children, the public can write in to appeal and IMDA will exercise some flexibility during the appeal process,” the spokesperson said in response to queries.
Finally, IMDA said it is working with the industry to donate cash or IT products in-kind to low-income households. Companies that have stepped forward to help include CrimsonLogic, HP Inc, Netlink NBN Trust, SGTech, Standard Chartered Bank and Tata Consultancy Services.
Firms that are interested to contribute may contact the Community Chest at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the hotline at 1800 210 2600.
IMDA said it will continue to monitor developments on telecommunications and digital use in Singapore and take further action if needed.
In the meantime, citizens who need help with matters such as the places to buy handsets or laptops, or how to buy and learn online, can visit IMDA's Stay Healthy, Go Digital website for step-by-step guides and other resources.
-Additional reporting by Tang See Kit.