THREE-YEAR DEBT MORATORIUM TO BE CONSIDERED BY GOVT AT MARCH 27 MEETING
FINANCIALLY STRAPPED digital TV operators may get a three-year debt moratorium and subsidy on ground network fees as part of the government’s effort to rescue the broadcasting industry beset by oversupply, according to the industry’s chief regulator.
Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecom Commission (NBTC), also said after a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krau-ngam and private sector representatives that two major telecoms operators would get a reprieve in paying multi-billion-baht licence fees to the government.
However, both digital TV and telecoms licensees have to pay interest on the amount owed to the government, based on a rate set by the Bank of Thailand.
Takorn said they had jointly agreed that digital TV licensees should be allowed to seek debt suspensions within 30 days after the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) issued a special order to approve measures to help the industry.
It was also agreed that the ground network fees for digital TV licensees would be cut by 50 per cent to ease the financial burden on operators who had been affected by the sluggish business environment, after more than two dozen new licences were issued a few years ago, which caused an oversupply of licensed operators.
Earlier this week, the Central Administrative Court ruled in a landmark case for the NBTC to return a seized Bt1.75-billion bank guarantee to Thai TV Co Ltd, one of the financially strapped licensees, which had already suspended its broadcast due to heavy losses.
The ruling also paved the way for Thai TV to return its two licences to the NBTC, which had insisted that all licensees were responsible for the full payment of fees throughout their licensing period, even though they no longer broadcast.
Several other licensees have indicated that they wanted to return licences due to the unfavourable business environment for digital TV operators.
According to the court’s ruling, the NBTC as the regulator did not properly implement the transition from analog to digital TV broadcasting, resulting in financial damages to Thai TV, which filed the lawsuit against the regulator.
However, the NBTC said it would lodge an appeal with the Supreme Administrative Court on the case.
Takorn said yesterday the remaining digital TV licensees might seek suspensions of their remaining fees to the NBTC for a period of up to three years, while the regulator would also subsidise up to 50 per cent of their ground network expenses for a period of up to 24 months.
Regarding the telecoms sector, he said, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was expected to issue an order under Article 44 to grant permission for AIS and True Move to delay payments of multi-billion-baht licence fees over a period of five years, which would ease the sector’s burden after they competed fiercely in the last bidding.
The payment terms will allow both operators to pay just over Bt10 billion per year instead of in bigger instalments, but they will also have to pay interest as set by the Bank of Thailand on the unpaid portion of fees.
Takorn said Wissanu would propose the measures to a joint meeting of Cabinet and the NCPO on March 27 for approval, so that a special order could be issued.
Suparp Kleekajai, president of the digital TV operators’ association, said the three-year debt moratorium would help licensees in several ways. First, they will have more funds to develop and improve content.
Second, viewers of the analog TV broadcasters will move to digital TV channels over the next three years due to the scheduled ending of analog TV broadcasting, so the advertising income of digital TV operators will improve.
He added that the digital TV industry would survive during the transition from analog to digital broadcasting.
Suparp said the meeting with Wissanu did not include discussions about the implications of the court’s ruling on Thai TV’s case.