Monopoly fears as digital TV nears
Free and fair competition underlines the need for reform in the broadcasting industry. However, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission's upcoming licensing for digital terrestrial TV is feared to maintain a decades-long monopoly, if not worsening the situation.
Concern is now centred on the licensing criteria. Academics and consumer groups fear that if big players are allowed to bid for all types of licences and if winning them is based on the highest bid, the industry will remain in their hands. Also being debated is whether those bidders should be allowed to compete for public-TV channels, which account for 12 of the 48 channels on offer. Public-TV licences will be auctioned separately from the 12 commercial channels.
Sutham Yunaitham, a former member of the National Telecommunications Commission, which has evolved into a committee of the NBTC, said that for absolute free and fair competition, all companies should be allowed to join all kinds of bidding. He now is the dean of law at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce.
A source at the NBTC said it blocked universal bidding to prevent a monopoly.
The broadcasting regulator is working on a rule limiting channels per bidder amid concerns from medium-sized television-content providers wishing to participate in the auction for commercial digital terrestrial TV channels over a media monopoly by major companies if the regulator allows them to run three kinds of digital channels.
There are two options proposed by the NBTC. First is that each TV broadcaster be allowed to operate a maximum of two channels for children's and variety programmes. And the other option is to allow each TV broadcaster to run a maximum of three channels for children, news and variety.
Thawatchai Jitpanant, chairman of the NBTC's panel on TV broadcasting competition, has said that under the first option, small and medium-sized content producers should have a better chance to win bandwidth in the spectrum auction as large companies would be allowed to hold up to only two commercial digital TV channels. This would help prevent a monopoly.
Under the second option, for three channels per operator, the operators would be more ready to attract advertising as a package. Those licensed TV broadcasters could utilise their own content, production facilities and technology to achieve lower operating costs if they won three channels.
These issues will be further discussed in the next few months before the auction actually kicks off in the second half of this year. TV still dominates more than 70 per cent of annual advertising expenditure that exceeds Bt100 billion.