Divided views on merger plan
Scheme to combine regulators undergoes its second hearing
Mass-communications scholars and telecom industrialists have stood firm in their opposing views of the initiative by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) to merge both telecom and broadcasting regulators.
Telecom industrialists say the merger would clear the hurdle of the lack of a National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), which makes the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) hesitate to award new frequency licences.
But mass-communications scholars are concerned the merged body would focus solely on telecom competition and technology and ignore the promotion of business ethics, consumer rights and freedom in the broadcasting sector.
The two sides voiced their opinions in the second hearing hosted by a subcommittee of the NLA's Science and Information and Communications Technology Committee on the possible merger of the two licensing bodies.
Industrialists from both the telecom and broadcasting arenas expressed similar opposing views in the first hearing early this month.
The subcommittee will conclude the results of the two hearings and submit its report for consideration by the main committee next month, which is then expected to submit its deliberations to the Cabinet or the NLA in May.
The subcommittee's proposal recommends the Frequency Allocation Act and the Telecom Act be amended to pave the way for an NTC-NBC merger. The Frequency Allocation Act stipulates the establishment of both bodies, while the Telecom Act prescribes their roles.
But the NBC is still in the process of being re-established, a state of affairs that has deterred the NTC from issuing new frequency licences, which in turn is regarded as blocking the development of telecom services.
The Central Administrative Court ruled in November 2005 to invalidate as unconstitutional the process of selecting 14 candidates for NBC seats. The Frequency Allocation Act mandates both licensing bodies to manage the telecom and broadcasting spectra jointly and prescribe use.
The subcommittee also proposed that after the merger, the regulator's role be limited to regulating the industry and no longer include setting policy, which should be the job of the government alone.
It also proposed the revision of clauses in the Frequency Allocation Act relating to evaluation of the regulator's performance.
The subcommittee proposed that the Telecom Act state clearly that the NTC interconnection charge would be applied to all telecom operators, whether they are private concessionaires of state telecom agencies or the regulator's licensees.
The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Ministry opposes the proposal out of concern for possible revenue loss for TOT.
The NTC's existing rule requires all telecom operators to share voice and data revenues bilaterally between signatories to the interconnection-charge agreements.
Some private cellular concessionaires want to pay only the interconnection charge and exit from the existing access charge they have paid to TOT for connecting different networks via TOT's facilities. TOT has earned Bt14 billion a year from access charges.
Moreover, the subcommittee proposed that the Telecom Act state clearly that the regulator has authority over the private concessions of the state agencies. Again, the ICT Ministry objects to this proposal, too, saying such a change would affect the national interest.