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Panel members want full subsidy for digital TV set-top boxes

THE TWO MEMBERS of the committee responsible for the Broadcasting and Telecommunication Research and Development Funds for Public Interest agree that all households should be fully subsidised by the watchdog to buy both a set-top box and an antenna to watch new digital TV channels.

"In my opinion, to speed up transition from analog to digital terrestrial TV broadcasting, all people should get full access to this new service without any unnecessary costs," Thongchai Keuasakul, director of the committee, said yesterday. He made the remark after a meeting of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission's subcommittee on the transition to digital terrestrial TV, whose membership includes the 24 holders of digital-TV licences.

However, the NBTC's administration must survey retail prices of the complete receiver/antenna set before setting a reference price and submitting it to the broadcasting committee for approval.

The watchdog's broadcasting panel will then submit a revised subsidy scheme - including the reference price - to the R&D Funds for Public Interest committee. Initially, the funds committee will allocate Bt15.1 billion, which is reserved for a subsidy scheme to speed up the transition to digital TV broadcasting by giving away a Bt690 discount coupon to each household.

The budget for the subsidy scheme will come from the Bt50.8 billion in revenue raised from the recent auction of 24 commercial digital-TV licences.

Pana Thongmeearkom, director of the funds committee, agreed that the eventual value of the voucher should cover the entire cost of acquiring a set-top box and antenna.

"The value of the coupon is likely to be more than the previous amount [discussed], but we need further information before fixing it," he added.

NBTC member Supinya Klangna-rong said the detailed plan for coupon distribution was another key issue.

She expects, however, that her committee will give away the discount coupons in June, after the digital-TV network is in place and ready for audiences in key provinces.

Although the coupon distribution plan for 22 million households is not yet finalised, Natee Sukonrat, chairman of the NBTC broadcasting committee, said in an earlier interview that the coupons should be distributed in areas that the new service initially reaches.

To ensure coupon distribution is transparent, he presented his idea that there should be four separate parties in the process: a single publisher and printer of the coupons, a coupon distributor, authorised retailers, and banks.

He believes the number of households should be based on Interior Ministry census data, while Thailand Post could be the coupon distributor.

People would have to purchase a digital-TV receiver and antenna from an authorised retailer or dealer, he said, adding that once authorised retailers collect the coupons from customers, they would have to take them to authorised banks to receive a refund.


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