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Digital voucher scheme to go ahead despite trans

The broadcasting regulator has not changed its plans for a digital-TV voucher scheme even though the junta has ordered it to transfer all revenue raised from last year's licence auction to the state.

Takorn Tantasit, secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), said the Finance Ministry would have to cover the cost of the vouchers.

The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) on Wednesday announced the amendment of some articles in the Act on Organisation to Assign Radio Frequency and to Regulate the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Services (2010).

The NBTC must transfer all revenue incurred in the auction of national frequencies for broadcasting service to the state. In the old version of the act, the revenue was to be managed by the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Research and Development Fund for the Public Interest (BTFP).

The auction of 24 digital TV licences raised a total of Bt50.86 billion in revenue, but to date just Bt11 billion has been paid. The rest will be paid over six years.

The NBTC had originally planned to reserve about Bt15.9 billion of the auction revenue to fund Bt690 vouchers for each household towards the purchase of digital set-top boxes or TV sets with built-in digital tuners. This figure was based on 22 million households.

However, to ensure that all viewers, including disabled and less privileged people and those in rural areas, can access this new broadcasting service, the NBTC wants to increase the value of the vouchers to Bt1,000 and adjust the number of households to 25 million. That would boost the budget to Bt25 billion.

Also, it wants to allow the vouchers to be used to buy cable and satellite TV receivers as well as digital receivers.

These adjustments raised questions among some broadcasters and consumer group about transparency. Therefore, the NCPO mandated public hearings on this issue in Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Songkhla and Bangkok.

Takorn said the results of the public hearings would be presented to the NBTC's board on July 23.

"After that, we will submit the resolution to the NCPO for final approval by end of this month in order to begin the free coupon distribution in September," he said.

The NCPO has also changed the make-up of the committee overseeing the BTFP, appointing the permanent secretary of the Defence Ministry and director-general of the Comptroller-General's Department, while adding a new position of deputy secretary. The new positions will replace three of the five existing senior advisers.

Takorn said that from now, all revenue from spectrum auctions for digital radio and TV broadcasting would be transferred to the state.

This excludes the current Bt12-billion fund being managed by the BTFP committee. The funds come from fines and annual licence fees for telecom and broadcasting service, and the budget transferred from the National Telecommunications Commission, a former telecom regulation body.


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