Tue, Feb 12, 2019 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Huge bids for radio licenses in digital era raise doubts

‘ABNORMAL’:The NCC said it does not know the people behind the winning bidders, while an academic said that the radio stations might turn into advertisement channels

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff Reporter

When the National Communications Commission (NCC) in August last year announced that the government made NT$740.5 million (US$24 million at the current exchange rate) from the auctioning of 15 new radio licenses, it raised the question: “When did radio licenses become so valuable?”

The government at the time released five regional and 10 community radio licenses. The former were issued after a qualification review and an auction, while the latter were granted following a qualification review and a draw.

The commission had planned to release 11 community radio licenses, but the license for Lienchiang County failed to attract any bidders, it said at the time.

Media paid special attention to the auctioning of the five regional radio licenses, as the final bidding prices for three of them — covering areas in Keelung (and part of New Taipei City), Taipei and Taoyuan — were 8.4, 6.3 and 10.3 times higher than the floor prices respectively.

The final bidding prices for licenses in Hsinchu and in Kinmen were about four and 4.5 times higher than the floor prices.

The commission has confirmed that the winning bidders made the payments before the deadline.

The auction results were a surprise to many.

Taiwan Radio Chairman Ma Chang-sheng (馬長生) said that the bidding prices “exceeded the expectations of many radio operators.”

VALIDITY QUESTIONED

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Alex Fei (費鴻泰) questioned the validity of the auction, citing the high bidding prices.

Fei said he was told that the licenses in Taoyuan, Taipei, Keelung and Kinmen were won by a group that allegedly sells medicines not authorized by the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

The number of radio listeners has drastically declined in the digital era, which has in turn shrunk the advertising revenue of radio stations, Fei said.

The commission was aware of the situation that the sector was in, but still set low floor prices for the auction, he said, adding that he found it problematic.

The high bidding prices could have resulted from the government having released the licenses after 18 years of planning, commission spokesman Wong Po-tsung (翁柏宗) said, adding that uncertainty about the release date of the licenses might have also contributed.

Asked the identities of the people behind the bidding teams and whether he had any guesses as to why they might think that running a radio station would be profitable, Wong said that the commission met only the representatives of the bidding teams and does not know their sources of funding.

The commission would meet the management teams of the new radio stations when they apply to simulcast radio programs, Wong said, adding that the winning bidders have three years to establish radio stations.

It took the government nearly two decades to release the new licenses because it originally planned to release them as a measure against underground radio stations, the commission said.

OLD POLICY

The policy in 2011 was to release as many licenses as possible to ensure that people nationwide had access to radio services and that radio frequencies were used more efficiently. Accordingly, the commission had previously planned to release 133 community radio licenses in three phases, with a three-year interval between the phases.

The plan was opposed by radio operators, who said it would affect their businesses. However, the commission went ahead with the plan, but decreased the number of licenses to 33 in 2014.

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