No decision yet on Android TV ban, says MCMC

The MCMC urges the people to only purchase and use communications equipment that is SIRIM-certified

by NG MIN SHEN / pic by TMR GRAPHIC

THE Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) will not be imposing a ban just yet on the sale of Android TV boxes in Malaysia, amid recent crackdowns on those found to be in possession of unauthorised streaming devices.

“There’s no decision yet,” MCMC chairman Al-Ishsal Ishak told The Malaysian Reserve when asked if there would be an outright ban on the sale and/or use of Android set-top boxes.

“We’re just doing our job,” he added in response to whether the clampdown foreshadows a full prohibition, as the popularity of the streaming boxes continues to rise among the public.

Media streaming boxes allow users to access both legal and illegal sites on the Internet.

In February, Deputy Communications and Multimedia Minister Eddin Syazlee Shith said the MCMC and the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs (KPDNHEP) are conducting an in-depth study on a potential television (TV) box ban.

“We hope the study will be completed before the end of this year, and until then, there is no ruling to restrict or completely ban the sale of the Android TV box,” Eddin Syazlee said.

In the meantime, Malaysia’s communications and multimedia industry regulator has been ramping up enforcement efforts against illicit TV boxes in recent months, raising the question of whether a total ban is on its way.

It has been reported that local filmmakers are in two minds on whether these boxes should be banned, as some argued that users could still find ways to stream the content via other means.

In that same month, the MCMC had blocked access to 246 illegal content streaming sources that provide illegal streaming content through Android TV boxes. It stated that the move is part of the MCMC’s effort to curb content piracy in the country.

In April this year, a couple and their company were charged by the MCMC’s head of prosecution in the Sessions Court for selling non-standard Android TV boxes.

This was the first case brought against non-standard Android TV box vendors since Gobind Singh Deo took office as the communications and multimedia minister in May 2018. The most recent charge before April was in September 2017.

Following the April case, four businessmen were charged in June for possessing and selling unlicensed Android TV boxes and audio-video sender equipment. The four were fined a total of RM70,000.

Just two weeks ago, LC Marketing Network Media Sdn Bhd and two of its directors were then charged in the Petaling Jaya (PJ) Sessions Court for owning 79 units of non-certified Android TV boxes with the intention of selling the boxes at Digital Mall, PJ. The company and its directors were fined a total of RM35,000.

In its July 12 statement announcing the charges brought against LC Marketing, the MCMC said it’s “continuing its enforcement action against anyone who owns and sells non-certified communications devices”.

It said the usage of non-certified communications equipment could cause frequency disruptions to communications networks and affect service quality.

“The MCMC urges the people to only purchase and use communications equipment that has been certified by SIRIM Bhd (a government-owned industrial research and technology organisation),” the regulator added.

Just a month prior to Eddin Syazlee’s statement, Singapore’s Law Ministry said it’s considering passing new laws to ban the sale of illegal streaming boxes that allow consumers to access pirated content.

In November last year, Singapore’s High Court ordered Internet service providers to block access to TV box applications that allow streaming and downloads of content like films, TV series and live sports channels, citing copyright infringement issues.

Android set-top boxes have become increasingly popular over the past two to three years, owing to their relatively cheap prices versus that of traditional pay-TV subscriptions.

The devices also offer vast selections of content, often including the latest movies and TV shows, and are widely available in physical stores, as well as online retail platforms.

Hong Leong Investment Bank Bhd in an earlier note said Astro Malaysia Holdings Bhd is clearly the most affected by the proliferation of TV boxes, as evident in its declining premium subscribers over the last three years.

It said Astro holds about 77% of the domestic pay-TV market, while the rest is controlled by Telekom Malaysia Bhd through unifiTV.

Speaking to reporters in January this year, Al-Ishsal said the sale and ownership of streaming boxes that allow consumers to access pirated content is illegal in Malaysia.

On the technical side, the set-top boxes require SIRIM approvals, while the content itself would fall under the Copyright Act 1987 if it contains elements of copyright infringement, Al-Ishsal said, adding that the matter involves various ministries, including the KPDNHEP.