The Senate’s appointment of 11 members to the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) in September of 2011 and the investigation into the appointment process by the Department of Special Investigations have attracted considerable media attention recently, but what is the NBTC and what are its powers and duties?
The direct answer is found in the Act on Organization to Assign Radio Frequencies and to Regulate Broadcasting and Telecommunications Services, B.E. 2553 (the Act). Section 6 of the Act provides that the NBTC shall consist of 11 commissioners, comprising experts in the following fields: radio broadcasting, television broadcasting, telecommunications services, law, economics, consumer protection or people’s rights and freedom, and telecommunication regulations, and education, culture, or social development. Section 7 of the Act requires that each commissioner must be of Thai nationality, between 35 and 75 years old, and must not hold a position in a political party, or hold a political position, or (within one year from the date of nomination or selection) hold any position in an entity engaging in broadcasting or telecommunications business.
Section 27 of the Act prescribes the NBTC's responsibilities, the most significant of which include:
- Formulating a master plan on broadcasting (television and radio), and telecommunications which will lead to frequency allocations and regulations; and
- Categorizing, regulating, licensing and assigning frequencies for broadcasting and telecommunication services.
Aside from these core responsibilities, Section 27 details a wide range of related powers and duties, such as:
- Prescribing criteria, procedures, charges and price structure for interconnection and access to television, radio and telecommunications services
- Setting standards and technical specifications for television, radio and telecommunications services
- Prescribing measures for the prevention of anti-competitive conduct or unfair competition for television, radio and telecommunications services
- Protecting the rights and liberties of the public: from exploitation by operators; to privacy and freedom to communicate; by promoting equal access to and use of frequencies
- Coordinating national and international frequency management
- Monitoring and advising on television, radio and telecommunications services
- Regulating mergers, cross ownership-holding and market dominance
- Promoting the diversification of licensees, broadcasters, and mass media professionals
- Regulating its own administrative, budgeting, financial and business affairs
- Informing and participating in negotiations and making agreements with foreign governments and international organizations in matters relating to broadcasting and telecommunications
- Advising the Cabinet on legislative amendments for broadcasting and telecommunications
Because of the political implications of control over broadcasting and the rapidly growing economic importance of telecommunications, the broad powers conferred on the NBTC under the 2010 Act explain the keen political and business interest in the NBTC selection process.
The NBTC’s convoluted legislative history, which can be traced back to promulgation of the 1997 constitution, envisioned the formation of a National Telecommunications Commission (NTC). Legislation in 2000 consolidated and transferred the regulatory authority for broadcasting and telecommunications in Thailand from other agencies to a seven-member NTC and a seven-member National Broadcasting Commission (NBC). Under the 2010 legislation referred to above (which repealed the original legislation in 2000), the NBTC became the overall regulatory body (in place of NTC and NBC) which has essentially assumed the powers of the NTC originally conferred under the legislation in 2000 (which has been replaced by the legislation in 2010) and also the Telecommunications Business Operations Act, B.E. 2544 (2001). The notification restricting foreign domination in telecommunications business was issued under the Telecommunications Business Operations Act, B.E. 2544.