The 21st century is supposed to be the age of digital convergence, but during a recent hearing in the legislature, government officials and representatives of business and academia were still discussing the Radio and Television Act (廣播電視法), the Satellite Broadcasting Act (衛星廣播電視法) and the Cable Radio and Television Act (有線廣播電視法) — all remnants of the 20th century.
Is the government asleep? When the National Communications Commission (NCC) was formed, it was hoped that it would manage renewal and draw up development policies for the industry. However, it has patently failed to do what it should. The result has been constant squabbling between platform and content providers, while channels and TV system operators fight over profits.
The government’s current communications industry policies are inappropriate and its priorities are mixed up. It has focused on the digitalization of terrestrial television, which should not be a priority. The result has been a waste of public funds and inefficiency. Only 11 percent of the cable television network has so far been digitalized. The result of this snail-paced policy is a distribution problem, a lack of market demand and service providers unwilling to invest.
The ongoing controversy over Want Want China Broadband’s bid to acquire 11 cable television services owned by China Network Systems was the result of the NCC not meeting its responsibilities. Having several competing platforms would help spur development in the content industry. At the moment, the television industry lacks healthy incentives, meaning content producers do not receive their just rewards, even when they provide good quality content.
The government must consider the public when regulating the communications sector. People want enough channels to choose from and they must be able to tell which are provided for free by the government and which are pay channels. Program and advertising content must be controlled by dedicated staff. Communications media on all carriers need to be regulated to safeguard consumers’ rights. Providing free terrestrial television is a key government task that can be done by giving subsidies to neighborhoods or allowing them to create community antenna television (CATV) services or set up satellite dishes.
I proposed amending Article 37 of the Cable Radio and Television Act to require that cable radio and television system operators provide free CATV services to allow residents to view terrestrial television in order to fulfill the government’s mission of offering universal broadcasting services.
The NCC should decide on a profit model for cable television so that TV systems can be successfully digitalized, and cost-splitting between TV system operators and channels should be made transparent. In addition, news channels should not be included in ratings surveys because this encourages them to compromise on program quality. The NCC should include all new forms of media and possible carriers and platforms in its planning. A revolution is happening in the form of new media such as Internet television, but the government acts as if it sees nothing, and refuses to face up to these changes.
When drawing up policies for the media industry, the NCC should not only crack down on illegal advertisements and small offenders, but also focus on big issues. It should speed up the digitalization drive and complete the digitalization of cable television within two years. It should also establish a competitive multi-platform environment and provide channel and content providers with a competitive market. This will benefit both viewers and the communications industry.