Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has deferred by one week the decision on whether to use his special powers to help digital TV and 900-MHz mobile operators amid conflicting views on the issue.

Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), met the chief of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) on Tuesday to discuss the request for Gen Prayut to invoke Section 44 to help operators of digital TV and 900-megahertz mobile spectrum.

“Gen Prayut is wary about the different views on the issue and told us to make sure the measures do not favour the private sector and the country stands to gain.

“The prime minister gave us one week to explain everything in writing by focusing on national and public interests.”

Mr Takorn said Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, who chairs the working committee on the issue, would call a meeting before the proposal was resent to the NCPO.

Gen Prayut’s response came after the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) said the NBTC’s proposal excessively favoured the private sector.

Spring News TV director Kosol Songniam said on Tuesday without the relief measures, operators would have to continue shouldering the high costs, which in turn cripple their ability to develop creative and competitive content.

In any case, the Digital TV Operators Association would push for more aid such as the return of licences, more flexibility on merger or cross-shareholding rules and a review of multiplex station (MUX) fees to better reflect actual costs.  

A conclusion would be reached with the NBTC before the regulator meets Mr Wissanu.

In their view, even if the NBTC signs off the relief measures, more needs to be done since they are mainly short-term solutions that benefit only small operators.

Under the NBTC’s proposal, the NCPO should invoke Section 44 to suspend debt payments for three years for the digital TV operators. The interest rate should also be cut to 1.5%, the equivalent of the Bank of Thailand’s policy rate.

For the two mobile phone operators — Advanced Info Service Plc and True Move — the NBTC asked the NCPO chief to allow them to pay the last instalments of 59.5 and 60.2 billion baht respectively in five yearly instalments, instead of in lump sum in 2019.

They argued if they are allowed to do so, their funds would be freed up and they can join the upcoming bid for the 1800MHz spectrum auction later, instead of leaving Total Access Communication Plc (DTAC), the second-largest operator, the sole bidder.

The NBTC called bids for 49 digital TV channels in late 2013. Bidders offered 50.9 billion baht for 24 channels — 3.3 billion baht on average for an HD channel and 650 million baht to 2.2 billion baht for standard resolution channels, depending on content type.

A year after the auction, several operators suffered huge losses, mainly due to high licence fees and a sea change in the TV landscape driven by the proliferation of social and online media.

Some blamed it on NBTC, which they said have failed to expand viewership and multiplex stations nationwide as planned.

Only a handful of the operators showed profits, most notably Workpoint and Mono channels. 

News Reporter

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