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Digital TV vouchers should not be used for purchase of cable/satellite receivers, focus group hears

SOME TV broadcasters, consumer groups and scholars are likely to reach a consensus on giving away vouchers to households only for the purchase of digital-TV set-top boxes and digital-ready TV sets, a focus group was told yesterday.

However, all parties agree on the urgent need to distribute the vouchers quickly to shorten the transition to the digital terrestrial TV era and pave the way for digital community service TV in the near future.

Saree Ongsomwang, secretary-general of the Foundation for Consumers, said that after her team surveyed the market for complete sets of digital set-top boxes, they found that the average price was on par with the value of the voucher.

"We believe that a Bt690 voucher is reasonable for the purchase of a |digital terrestrial TV set-top box," she said.

She made her remark at the focus group organised by the National Broadcasting and Telecommuni-cations Commission's consumer rights protection committee before a public hearing today in Bangkok.

Opinions on the value of the voucher remain mixed, ranging from Bt690 to Bt1,000. But Suphab Kleekachai, president of the Digital TV Club and chief adviser to the ThaiTV channel, said the value was not an issue for digital TV operators.

"What we need is for the free vouchers to be distributed to households as quickly as possible. The delay causes opportunity losses as people cannot access TV content via digital channels at the right time," he said.

Thanachai Wongthongsri, executive vice president of MCOT, said the coupon should be only good for a digital TV receiver. It should not be allowed to be used for a cable or satellite TV set-top box.

On behalf of her digital TV network operator, Thanachai witnessed some digital TV broadcasters of variety programmes in high definition (HD) spending extra on satellite broadcasting.

"If the NBTC allows people to use this coupon to obtain either a cable or satellite TV receiver, those broadcasters would shoulder higher costs in the near future," he said.

Under the NBTC's "must carry" rule, all households can access only standard definition (SD) content, not HD content, from the 12 public and 24 commercial digital TV channels via cable and satellite TV.

The digital TV network operator believes that giving away vouchers for cable and satellite TV boxes appeared to promote cable/sat networks, not digital terrestrial TV network expansion.

"Will digital terrestrial TV networks be a national backbone of broadcasting?" he asked.

Adisak Limprungpatanakij, president of Nation Broadcasting Corporation, was concerned that the birth of digital TV broadcasting for community service would be affected if people continued to watch TV via cable or satellite.

Pornthep Benyaapikul, an economics lecturer at Thammasat University, said that to ensure that the Bt15.18-billion digital-TV voucher scheme is implemented effectively, the NBTC should open registration for people who really need the coupons.


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