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Auction system the best for allocating telecom, broadcast frequencies: say academics

Jan 29. 2015
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FREQUENCY allocation for broadcasting and telecommunications must be done through auctions only, a public forum heard yesterday, while some academics agreed with a proposal to merge the telecom and broadcast committees of the National Broadcasting and Tel
Somkiat Tangkitvanich, president of the Thailand Development Research Institute, said at an NBTC forum on “Frequency Resources and Direction of Communication under the Digital Economy Bills” that auctions were the best method for frequency allocation. Other methods relied on the discretion of authorities rather than considering the benefits of the country. 
“If government thinks the [NBTC frequency] auctions have problems, the government should identify what the problems are, and then adjust the NBTC Bill accordingly to address those problems, while still keeping auctions as the main method of frequency allocation,” he said. 
Somkiat added that he agreed with combining the NBTC’s two committees into one, since this would be in line with the trend of convergence of telecommunications and broadcasting technology, and providers of the two services. However, the number of committee members should be reduced from 11 to only seven or nine. This might help get rid of underperforming NBTC members as well.
Supot Tiarawut, director of industrial liaison programme at Chulalongkorn University’s engineering faculty, agreed on these points. 
He said frequency allocation by the selection method could lack transparency, while the telecom and broadcasting committees should be combined. 
The NBTC Fund should be reserved for the support the telecommunication and broadcasting industries, he said. 
Somkiat said solid and clear guidelines should be in place on how the fund is used. Its objectives should not be too broad, which could also lead to a lack of transparency. 
“It is not important where the fund is. The important point is to have the solid objective of using this fund in ways that are transparent and checkable, as well as undertaking evaluations,” he said. 
The policy roles of the National Digital Economy Commission and the NBTC should be linked. Somkiat said the NDEC’s role would be to determine national policy, while the NBTC’s was to regulate that policy as it saw fit. 
Some of the details in the digital-economy bills appear to go against the draft constitution in terms of media reform, according to a member of the National Reform Council. 
In the afternoon session of yesterday’s forum, NRC member Wasan Paileeklee said the public had no chance to take part in the development of the digital-economy bills, which could have impact on people’s rights and freedoms. 
Wasan, a member of the NRC’s media reform committee, said that under the digital-economy bills, the NBTC would no longer be an independent organisation, as it would be under government authority. 
More important, according to the bills related to the assignment of radio frequencies, the NBTC should give first priority to government bodies for public service, not to public organisations.
Piyabutr Bunaramrueang, a lecturer at the Law School of the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said it was an international standard and principle to separate broadcasting and telecommunications regulators from operators and policy-makers in order to manage and regulate the industry under free and fair competition. However, he noted, under these bills, the broadcasting and telecommunications regulator would be put under a committee overseeing the national digital economy, which would include operators such as TOT and CAT Telecom and policy makers like the Information and Communication Technology Ministry. 

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