The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) is initiating the development of internet connectivity for slum communities in Bangkok and WiFi service for districts nationwide as part of its fourth universal service obligation (USO) plan, continuing efforts to bridge the digital divide.
The regulator is adjusting some definitions of the USO projects under a draft USO 4.0 scheme to support additional dimensions of USO projects.
According to NBTC commissioner Somphop Purivigraipong, who is responsible for the telecom business, the internet for slum communities and WiFi for districts are digital tools to improve the daily life of poor people.
The NBTC office is collaborating with the Social Development and Human Security Ministry to determine the definition of socially vulnerable groups.
The office is working with the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration to group poor people in Bangkok, in line with the project definitions.
Mr Somphop said the NBTC will also have to talk with the Subdistrict Administrative Organisation to determine the exact WiFi demand in areas nationwide. The regulator may have to discuss with telecom operators about facilitating the related support for slum communities and poor people in districts nationwide.
"We are seeking proper conditions before rolling out the project," he said.
Mr Somphop said the NBTC does not intend to implement the project through only its USO fund but may also need some support from private operators, especially for mobile services and data usage.
Telecom operators, which help operate the USO projects under standards and objectives ruled by the NBTC, would be able to reduce the annual USO fees they have to pay to the NBTC by deducting investment expenses from the USO fee.
Currently telecom licensees pay the annual USO fee to the NBTC at the rate of 2.5% of their total revenue.
Mr Somphop said the NBTC office now operates USO under its USO 3.0 scheme which runs until the end of this year.
The former NBTC board started implementing the NBTC's USO 3.0 scheme before the current board began their tenure in April 2022.
The NBTC is in the process of preparing to implement the USO 4.0 plan which is slated to start next year.
The plan would cover operations handling the digital divide between 2024 and 2026 or three years as the normal operation period of the USO plan.