NBTC Watch: New NBTC Act kicks in; secret hearings reviewed

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ITEM: Thailand’s long-awaited new frequency law, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission Establishment Act, came into force on Thursday.

The new act finally consolidates the two broadcasting and telecommunications boards into one and allows for resale of spectrum, paving the way for the NBTC to pay broadcaster MCOT for its chunk of 2.6 GHz for LTE.

The new NBTC Act effectively ends a 27-year-long experiment with deregulation and brings the telecoms regulator back under the control of the executive branch, as has been reported before in detail. While the new NBTC is still described as autonomous, the Digital Economy Commission now has priority to allocate spectrum for good causes, and only commercial spectrum is left for the regulator. Its budget needs to be signed off by the Digital Economy Commission as well.

ITEM: Digital Economy Minister Pichet Durongkaveroj has ordered a review of the controversial cybersecurity bill and the personal data protection bill following an outcry over the public hearing for both being conducted effectively in secret on a little-known website.

Pichet said he would have to determine if the bills were given a proper public hearing, as required in Article 77 of the new constitution.

However, given how the military junta is eager to keep all public gatherings under strict control, it is unlikely that an open debate on the cybersecurity bill would be tolerated. At its heart, the cybersecurity bill concentrates power in the hands of the Prime Minister. The draft bill includes an NSA-letter-type clause that allows the Cyber Security Commission to issue secret orders to anyone in the private sector to do or refrain from doing anything in the name of cybersecurity.

ITEM: Pichet also called for restraint regarding NBTC Secretary-General Takorn Tantasit’s announcement yesterday regarding the low-cost broadband project, saying that the DE Ministry still had not given the go-ahead for the project and has not yet decided on the model – especially the question of whether the last-mile network would be given to TOT or be open to the private sector.

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