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17 May 2016
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TDRI uneasy about NBTC draft bill

The Thailand Development and Research Institute (TDRI) has urged a halt in the approval process of a draft bill governing the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), saying the legislation could hurt the telecom industry and weaken consumer protection.

The cabinet expects to submit the NBTC draft bill to the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) for endorsement soon. The bill is supposed to take effect by year-end.

“The bill should be revised over several controversial issues, including frequency allocation and the qualifications of NBTC members,” said TDRI president Somkiat Tangkitvanich. He said the bill suggested that the allocation of frequency could be done by other means, including beauty contests, rather than through auctions.

Mr Somkiat noted that the US abandoned the beauty contest method, deeming it outdated and lacking transparency. “Last year’s auctions of the 1800- and 900-megahertz spectrum for 4G licences generated almost 300 billion baht for the state,” he said.

In addition, Mr Somkiat said the bill requires commission members to hold a military rank of at least lieutenant-general, instead of choosing members with experience and expertise in telecom and new media.

This could favour military and open loopholes for corruption, as any public or private companies with strong political connections could enjoy the benefit of the NBTC’s policies.

Mr Somkiat said the government should continue using the current NBTC bill of 2010, waiting until the revised draft bill is amended. The NBTC draft bill is one of eight under the digital economy master plan being prepared by the government to submit to the NLA for endorsement.

Mr Somkiat was speaking yesterday at a seminar entitled “Five Years of the NBTC and the Future of the Country’s Telecommunications”, hosted by the NBTC. He said the bill is sparking concerns over a possible weakening of consumer protection benefits. He also said the state has provided too much spectrum ranges to state enterprises and military agencies.

The national regulator, meanwhile, failed to reclaim frequencies from state enterprises since the commission was set up five years ago. “I don’t agree that the country’s basic telecom infrastructure and services must be reserved for state enterprises to manage and operate only. This could breach the commitments to the World Trade Organization,” Mr Somkiat said.

“A lot of basic telecom services currently operated by state enterprises can prove me right, when you compare with the one operated by private telecom companies”.

First published: Bangkok Post on Saturday, May 14, 2016