The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) may raise the number of high-definition (HD) channels covered under digital TV licences to be given this year.
It already plans to issue four digital TV licences for HD channels, but there is high demand from existing free stations wanting to broadcast in HD for public service purposes.
Thai PBS, Channel 5 and the National Broadcasting Services of Thailand (NBT) have asked the regulator to increase the number of HD channels allowed, said Col Natee Sukonrat, chairman of the NBTC's broadcasting committee.
Under the master plan, the NBTC will issue 48 digital TV licences, covering 12 channels in standard-definition format for community service per area, another 12 SD channels for public service and 24 channels for commercial broadcasting.
Among the 24 commercial TV channels, four will be HD.
"We're considering adding some HD channels for public service, but that will depend on the business environment and spectrum capacity. We'll know once the digital broadcast trials for all six free TV channels have started in March or April," he said.
The NBTC will sign a memorandum of understanding for the digital broadcast trials with Thai PBS next Friday and with MCOT and NBT later.
The transition to digital TV is proceeding, with evaluation of the spectrum value to be completed by Chulalongkorn University's economics faculty next month.
"Thailand is the world's first country to organise a spectrum bidding for broadcasting, but the committee must follow the rules faithfully," said Col Natee.
Regarding facilities providers, Thai PBS and TOT Plc have already filed their proposals.
Other broadcasters such as Channel 5 and MCOT as well as telecom operators will also seek licences.
Col Natee said network providers will be issued licences in March using the "beauty contest" method, with those making the most feasible proposals receiving a licence.
Approval of licences for service providers is expected in March or April for public service channels and at the end of June for commercial channels.
Permits for community service channels will be issued by year-end.
Richard Womersley, the director of LS Telcom, the British software and systems company, said a good pilot project is most important for the digital transition, which requires frequency planning, proper timing and consumer awareness.
"Consumer awareness is essential for a successful transition to digital TV. The regulator and related parties must frequently communicate with consumers through all media channels," he said.
Meanwhile, the NBTC's broadcasting subcommittee yesterday agreed in principle to give away coupons to help consumers get through the digital transition.
A value for the coupons was not set, but they will be used to provide a discount when buying a new TV set or set-top box to receive digital broadcast signals.
Col Natee said the coupons' value will depend on the spectrum value evaluation for the 24 commercial digital TV channels. This issue will be added into the bidding criteria for this category.
About the author
Writer: Saengwit Kewaleewongsatorn