Facebook, Netflix get OTT ultimatum
NBTC mulls ad ban if filing deadline missed
Facebook, YouTube and Netflix must register their over-the-top (OTT) services with the national telecom regulator within the next 30 days or face legal barriers that will stymie their revenue streams, officials said this week.
The National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission (NBTC) has given the world's biggest online social network and other online entertainment platforms until July 22 to register, said NBTC vice chairman Natee Sukolrat.
The agency's regulatory framework for OTT services took effect Thursday when the commission invited platform providers to meet and register their OTT activities and businesses.
Some 24 digital terrestrial television channels and 11 OTT operators attended the meeting. All agreed to register with the NBTC list.
Representatives of Facebook, YouTube and Netflix were no-shows but their registration is mandatory, Col Natee said.
"We don't want to use the term 'illegal' for those OTT providers who fail to register, but their services are not in line with Thai law," he said.
Col Natee said the NBTC is considering taking measures to impose advertising or other bans on those who fail to register by the stated deadline, which would jeopardise their income.
He refused to elaborate, saying the picture would become clearer in the next few weeks.
However the regulator has no intention to issue fines or shut down their local service operations as it does not wish to inconvenience users, he said.
The remarks echo comments he made to representatives of the US-Asean Business Council (USABC) Thursday. Asean stands for the Association of Southeast Nations, a 10-member bloc.
The USABC representatives led by president Alexander Feldman met NBTC executives to discuss the newly issued regulatory framework for OTT businesses.
They asked the commission what would happen if the platform providers miss the deadline.
Col Natee said they would be permitted to keep operating but they would face tough measures that would eat into their major revenue streams.
He said any measures that are deployed would not interfere with the companies' creative content or OTT operations.
The NBTC will regulate such businesses on the basis of complaints received rather than adopting a paternal censorship role, he added.
Under the framework, foreign OTT platform providers are required to establish offices in Thailand, making them subject to corporate income tax.
The local office must be registered as a legal entity, meaning it must have executives who are authorised to issue orders related to the services and clarify any problems that emerge locally.
The NBTC's advisory panel reported earlier that OTT services in Thailand can be divided into two schools -- those based on a free platform, which are driven through advertising, and those based on a paid platform, which require monthly payments from subscribers or payment-on-demand.
The free OTT platform includes Line TV, YouTube, and some digital TV channels that broadcast their programmes on OTT platforms, including Channels 3, 7, 8 and Workpoint TV.
Paid OTT platforms include Netflix, Iflix, Hollywood HDTV, PrimeTime, AIS Play and TrueVisions Anywhere.
Yet legal experts voiced their concern earlier this week that the move to control foreign OTT service providers by making them set up local entities is putting the government on rocky ground as there are no legal provisions for this.
No country has regulated its OTT services yet. This means Thailand would become the first to do so if the NBTC presses ahead with its plan, said Paiboon Amonpinyokeat, founder of P&P Law Firm.
Setting up local units is financially cumbersome and time consuming, critics say.