NBTC makes volte-face on OTT plan

NBTC makes volte-face on OTT plan

New framework to be drafted and vetted

Big internet streaming companies are safe for now, as the NBTC scraps a plan to control 'application economy' operators by July 22, but the official online censor said it will be back with a new plan soon. (File photo)
Big internet streaming companies are safe for now, as the NBTC scraps a plan to control 'application economy' operators by July 22, but the official online censor said it will be back with a new plan soon. (File photo)

The attempt to rein in over-the-top (OTT) service operators is in shambles after the national telecom regulator abruptly announced Wednesday it is scrapping the planned regulations that would force OTT companies worldwide to register for tax purposes.

According to a resolution by the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) board, the widely-criticised framework had several weak points and will be replaced with a new one.

Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the NBTC, said the new regulatory framework would need 90 days to get off the ground. That time frame covers 30 days for drafting the revised plan and 60 days for public hearings.

Once the new hearing process is finished, the new draft framework will be submitted to the NBTC board for approval.

The latest move by the NBTC board immediately nullified an order issued by NBTC vice-chairman Natee Sukolrat for all content providers and internet streaming platforms to register themselves with the regulator by July 22.

Col Natee, who is head of subcommittee working on regulatory policy, had previously attempted to sanction unregistered OTT platforms by forcing ad agencies and the top 50 online spenders to stop doing business with them. Three companies did not register -- Facebook, YouTube and Netflix.

A source at Wednesday's meeting said NBTC chairman ACM Thares Punsri had raised the issue of abandoning the OTT framework, with the unlisted agenda item being discussed for two hours.

Citing a letter sent by Deputy Prime Minister ACM Prajin Juntong, ACM Thares said the previous framework drawn up by the subcommittee had spurred concerns by many parties, including the prime minister, that it would negatively impact the economy and thus needed to be reviewed.

"Although Col Natee stated that it had passed through several hearings, the NBTC board needs to see a new hearing process," said the source.

Mr Takorn said the subcommittee led by Col Natee is still responsible for working on drafting the new regulatory framework and will play a central part in hosting future hearings.

The NBTC board in April (under the old NBTC Act) issued a resolution that video-on-demand from OTT operators be categorised as broadcast business. It set up a subcommittee to hammer out the regulatory policy to govern OTT business.

The subcommittee, with 11 members led by Col Natee, has a one-year term. The regulatory framework was announced on June 22, the same day that the NBTC law was published in the Royal Gazette.

No action made by the subcommittee had been proposed to the NBTC board for approval, said Mr. Takorn

"The NBTC board wants to see how the formal process [of drafting the regulation] takes shape, unlike last time," he said.

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