Caution urged over OTT regulation

Warning fees could deter local startups

Policymakers should adopt a wait-and-see strategy before deciding what measures to be imposed on over-the-top (OTT) companies as regulatory intervention may stifle innovation, a Netherlands-based business consultancy urges.

The appeal was a response to a National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) study on how to impose an internet bandwidth fee on OTT services.

"Imposing a fee might not only impact global OTT players, it would also affect local companies and startups whose inventions by definition entail the creation of OTT products and services," said Bunyati Kirdniyom, director for government relation of Vriens & Partners.

The International Telecommunication Union has defined OTT as an application or service which is accessible on the internet and rides on mobile operators' networks.

Mr Bunyati said the exact definition of OTT has yet to be settled, but there is consensus on the three most common characteristics: content or services are delivered over the internet; the platform reaches consumers worldwide with low entry barriers to access; it entails streaming services that customers are willing to get access to.

He said it would be difficult for OTT operators to know which cellular networks -- be it mobile or fixed-line -- their customers are using. It is also tough to figure out how to calculate the exact amount of customers' bandwidth used on their services, Mr Bunyati said.

On the plus side, he said OTT players are increasing traffic on mobile operators' data networks, thereby increasing data revenue.

Mr Bunyati said that if the NBTC wants to create a level playing field between traditional media and telecom companies and OTT players, the regulator should loosen existing regulations to reduce costs instead of imposing additional measures on OTT.

He said regulators and policymakers in Thailand need to take the overall benefits for the internet ecosystem into consideration, rather than focusing solely on tax collection and control.

Instead of taking control of the OTT market, policymakers should rather provide incentives and build a digital ecosystem that includes lower internet access costs, foster a digitally-skilled workforce and implement stable and predictable industry policies, Mr Bunyati said.

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