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May 20, 2010

Singtel, Starhub face revolt

SINGAPORE Telecommunications and StarHub, Singapore's two cable-TV providers, face a protest from more than 20,000 soccer fans after raising fees to watch next month's World Cup sevenfold to the highest in Asia, Bloomberg News reported on Thursday.

The increase from the previous tournament four years ago, announced May 7, prompted local resident John Chua to rally disaffected fans on a Facebook page, including Kelvin Chan, who plans a public demonstration next month.

Some viewers will instead tune in to free-to-air broadcasts of the games from neighbouring countries, Mr Chua said. 'It's a clear case of exploitation pricing,' he said in an e-mail. 'They have no concern for the public even under this economy crisis and think that we will pay regardless.'

SingTel and StarHub paid $15 million for the rights, triple the amount StarHub paid in 2006, a report said on May 1, citing people it didn't identify. The two companies declined to say how much they paid because of confidentiality agreements.

Mr Chan plans to organise a demonstration at Speakers' Corner, a venue allocated for public protests, pending government approval, he said in an e-mail, Bloomberg said. The Facebook protest group, which had 20,600 members as of Wednesday, was formed two days after SingTel and StarHub said they will charge existing subscribers $70.62 if they sign up by May 31, or $94.16 thereafter to watch the month-long tournament that starts June 11 in South Africa. For the 2006 World Cup, StarHub charged early subscribers $10.50.

Bloomberg reported that Mr Chua's group plans to print t-shirts that say 'I choose not to subscribe,' and red cards that say 'You're Off! SingTel, StarHub,' mimicking the cards referees use to eject soccer players for foul play.

'I didn't expect such a strong response,' Mr Chua said. 'I am very proud that everybody is standing united against something that is wrong.'

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