Radio stations face new regime amid digital rejig
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Radio stations face new regime amid digital rejig

Roughly 3,900 community radio stations will have to stop airing broadcasts after this year as analogue stations transition to a licensing regime and a digital audio broadcasting (DAB) scheme.

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) held a public hearing on three drafts of the digital radio regulatory framework, with implementation targeted for September this year.

According to NBTC commissioner AM Thanapant Raicharoen, development of the DAB system is being pushed in parallel with the transition of the community radio system to the NBTC's licensing regime.

"The move is to improve the service standard and help stakeholders handle the digital disruption," he said.

The move also aligns with a major transition outlined in NBTC's third master plan for broadcasting and TV business, slated for between 2025 and 2030.


AM Thanapant said community radio stations have been operating through NBTC permission for trial services in recent years. The permission was extended for five years by the defunct National Council for Peace and Order until April 2022, then continued by the previous administration.

The permission expires at the end of 2024. After 2024, the community radio stations must close or face administrative fines.

He said the community radio stations have two options: enter the NBTC radio licensing regime for FM analogue systems or the DAB system.

Some 313 FM radio stations have been awarded licences by the NBTC.

All analogue radio stations, both licensed and those holding permission, operate via the spectrum between 87 megahertz and 108MHz.

AM Thanapant said the FM analogue radio system could serve around 3,000 stations under the existing spectrum, but they must coordinate with each other to prevent signal interference.

He said some community radio stations will be terminated if they do not adopt one of the two choices after this year.

The NBTC provides incentives for stations to transfer to the FM analogue licensing regime, offering a cheaper fee structure, said AM Thanapant.

The annual operation fee for community radio is set at 500 baht for radio stations airing community content, 2,000 baht for stations airing public content, and 10,000 baht for stations airing business content.

The fee structure of the FM analogue system is 1,000 baht for a five-year licence term for stations airing community content, 4,000 baht for public content, and 15,000 baht for business content.


He said the public hearing on the three drafts of the digital radio regulatory framework included a regulatory scheme for frequency utilisation for digital audio broadcasting, a transmitter and a receiver.

Development of the DAB scheme includes transitioning licensees for operating DAB services and licensees for networks, said AM Thanapant.

He said the rules for licensing a multiplex (MUX) of broadcast network operators are expected to be in effect by August this year.

The licence for DAB operators is expected to be issued by the third quarter of 2025, said AM Thanapant.

For MUX broadcasters, there are three options for a licensing regime.

First, the government, through an NBTC fund, may be responsible for installing a MUX system, estimated at 1 billion baht in funding for three years of operations, covering 60% of the population nationwide.

Second, the NBTC could hold a licensing auction for MUX providers of DAB nationwide, although this depends on demand, he said.

Lastly, AM Thanapant said for specific areas a group of community radio stations could collaborate to establish or invest in joint network development, renting a MUX system to operate digital radio services for themselves.

Technically, one MUX system would be capable of providing network capacity for at least 16-18 digital radio stations' operations, he said.

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