When Howard Shyr (石世豪) became the first deputy chairperson of the National Communications Commission (NCC) after it was formed in 2006, the commission was already facing several challenges.
Aside from the questions of the constitutionality of the independent ombudsman as well as relentless verbal attacks on commissioners launched by the then-ruling party Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), a majority of the nation’s cable TV services were controlled by foreign investors. Chunghwa Telecom’s multimedia-on-demand (MOD) system had just begun to attract users and only a small of number mobile phone users had migrated from second-generation (2G) to third-generation (3G) telephone services.
Last month Shyr returned to the NCC as chairperson, six years after he first joined the body. Since then however, the nation’s media and telecommunication environment have experienced drastic changes. The commission has ruled on two controversial cross-media ownership cases: the Dafu Media — affiliated with the nation’s top telecom carrier Taiwan Mobile — and its merger with the nation’s largest multiple service operator (MSO) Kbro Co; the Want Want China Times Group — which already owns newspapers, magazine and television stations — and which was controversially granted conditional approval in July to purchase the cable TV services owned by China Network Systems (CNS).
Earlier this month the Want Want ruling drew nearly 10,000 journalists, students and other protesters onto the streets to demonstrate against the monopolization of the media.
Meanwhile, the number of MOD system subscribers has vastly increased and now stands at around 1.2 million, making it the most threatening potential competitor to cable television services. Rather than encouraging people to switch from 2G to 3G services, the nation is now filled with mobile phone users unsatisfied with slow data transmission rates as well as what they say are obscenely high telecom service rates. The government has been urged to develop fourth-generation (4G) technology and many are wondering how Shyr might address the problems facing the nation’s rapidly changing telecom service and media market. What would the former NCC deputy chairperson do differently now that he is calling the shots in the agency?
In a recent interview with the Taipei Times, Shyr said the commission would consider stipulating laws regulating cross-media ownership.
“The only national law that can be used to regulate cross-media ownership is the Fair Trade Act (公平交易法),” Shyr said. “However, the law mainly considers competition in the market, not problems generated by the concentration of media content.”
Shyr said that worldwide ,countries differ markedly in how they regulate cross-media ownership, with the laws generally reflecting the culture and the society of that nation.
Shyr highlighted the method used by Germany’s Commission on Concentration in the Media Sector (KEK) as an example, which was widely cited by national media experts as a way to calculate Want Want’s potential media influence.
“The German method has a very unique characteristic,” he said, adding that he had done extensive studies into the method in his doctoral dissertation. “The contents [in the German method] are much more refined than the discussions we had here.”
When asked if the commission would ask the nation’s telecom carriers to lower their service rates next year, Shyr said the commission would comprehensively review the policy and plans to reach a final decision before the end of this year.