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Controversy over regulation of OTT content on Internet

Jun 25. 2017
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Proponents argue over ‘appropriate’ content, taxes amid censorship fears.

UPCOMING regulation of Over-The-Top (OTT) content on digital platforms has drawn mixed responses from legal and technology experts as the National Broadcasting and Telecom Commission (NBTC) steps up its supervisory role.

OTT content is audio, video and other media content delivered openly over the Internet that does not require consumers to purchase a subscription.

Prinya Hom-anek, president and CEO of the ACIS Professional Centre and a technology expert, said OTT or similar regulations were common in the European Union as well as in Australia, Britain, Indonesia, Vietnam and Pakistan. 

Prinya said OTT rules should not be seen as a censorship effort, adding that it was more like a regulatory exercise to weed out toxic content such as pornography, bomb-making tutorials and other undesirable content on various digital platforms.

The NBTC’s regulatory duty was to require all OTT broadcasting platforms to register, said Prinya, noting that LINE and Microsoft had already cooperated with the NBTC while Facebook and Youtube had not.

According to the NBTC, all OTT platforms have until July 22 to register with authorities to continue operating in Thailand lawfully. The agency said those that fail to register by the deadline would face unspecified difficulties in doing business in the Kingdom, but their operations would not be banned.

Prinya said Pakistan banned YouTube for about three years after which Google, YouTube’s owner, decided to set up servers in Pakistan while Facebook earlier faced similar problems in Vietnam and Indonesia. He believed OTT regulation was necessary when online content reached a point where it was no longer communication among a few people but a broadcasting platform that reached a large number of people with broad social consequences.

In that context, the upcoming regulation had nothing to do with a potential impact on people’s freedom of expression and speech as some critics had said since only broadcasters, not individuals, would be affected, Prinya said.

Copyright issues

Assistant Professor Sakulsri Srisaracam, head of the Convergent Journalism Department in the Faculty of Communication Arts at the Panyapiwat Institute of Management, said regulatory measures should be aimed at protecting consumers since online content was accessible by all age groups.

The agency should strike a balance to avoid hindering creative and innovative content while ensuring that there was a level playing field for all competitors, especially in terms of taxation, Sakulsri said. He added that a right balance in the regulatory approach would lead to a reasonable tax-revenue base while undesirable content would be minimised and businesses could prosper from new business models on the digital platform.

Artima Suraphongchai, head of marketing for iFlix (Thailand), said any form of regulation should aim at the public benefit and protection of the public from potentially harmful effects.

OTT regulations are intended ensure that “appropriate content” is distributed, meaning that it would have the proper copyrights and be appropriate for the audience in a given country.

In some countries, such as South Korea, authorities want to promote local content so they have a quota for local material. The firm iFlix was also concerned about operators distributing content without a copyright, so OTT services could be a key means to combat piracy.

Mana Treelayapewat, dean of the School of Communication Arts at University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said it would be unfair if only Thai platforms were regulated while global platforms such as YouTube and Facebook were not. In addition, he said it remained unclear whether OTT regulations would hinder the digital TV industry, which has been growing at a high rate.

Mana also expressed concern that politically sensitive content could also be affected by OTT regulations.

Paiboon Amonpinyokeat, a legal expert and founder of the P&P Law Firm, said he was unsure if the NBTC had the legal authority to regulate OTT content on the Internet and other digital platforms since the NBTC legislation only specified regulation of telecoms and broadcasting services.

Based on country-of-origin rules, governments only have regulatory power only when computer servers are located in the country. 

Paiboon said the government was attempting to regulate OTT content following the distribution of politically sensitive content on Facebook, adding that the Ministry for Digital Economy and Society might have the authority to regulate content under the Computer Crime Law.

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