NBTC flees from OTT surcharge plan

NBTC flees from OTT surcharge plan

Public outcry forces Takorn to scrap idea

The telecom regulator has backtracked on its plan to impose a surcharge on network bandwidth usage by over-the-top (OTT) service providers such as Facebook and Line, after the proposal was widely criticised by telecom veterans and the public last week.

Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), said he will scrap the planned motion to raise network bandwidth usage surcharges at August's Asean regulatory meeting, which will be held in Bangkok.

"Public perception differs from the regulator's intentions," he said.

The surcharge would have been based on the amount of OTT bandwidth used, aiming to indirectly force OTT providers to pay a surcharge to international internet gateway (IIG) operators if the OTT were classified as a "big OTT".

Mr Takorn said the move would implement a measure of fairness for the telecom operators that created the network infrastructure and would also generate revenue for the state coffers.

But public perception, shaped by analysts and the media, cast the plan as an additional cost to consumers and a hindrance to digital economy development in the country, he said.

"We tried to initiate a soft-touch regulatory concept to address the existing unfairness between telecom network owners and OTT providers," Mr Takorn said.

He said the previous concepts for regulating OTTs, such as a registration and taxation regime, were seen as impractical and the NBTC failed to force giant OTTs to register.

"Some Asean countries' regulators are still trying to create a system governing OTTs through registration, but I personally disagree with the registration system," Mr Takorn said.

Last week, the NBTC floated the idea of imposing additional charges on OTTs like Netflix, Facebook and Line, which offer video streaming that takes up an outsize portion of internet bandwidth -- especially as video quality improves and 4K becomes common.

Under the plan, small OTTs would not be affected, while big OTT providers that consume a huge volume of bandwidth on IIG networks would have to pay a usage fee to IIG operators through a progressive rate.

For the plan to work, however, IIG operators would have to classify which data in the network constituted OTT traffic, a process that some telecom organisations called impractical and costly. The NBTC would determine how much extra bandwidth usage would incur a surcharge for OTTs.

The NBTC would also draft the details of the regulatory condition that would be added to the IIG licence regulation to determine what OTTs had to pay based on volume of internet traffic used.

The regulatory draft would outline how IIG operators collect fees from OTTs before passing them on to the state coffers. The costs incurred by IIG operators collecting the fees could then be used to reduce their annual licence fees to the NBTC.

The fee from OTT providers, which is passed to the NBTC and state coffers, would help the NBTC to determine a low reserve price for 5G spectrum licence auctions in the future.

The initiative was widely slammed by the public on the grounds that it was technically impractical and discouraging to innovation and business development.

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