NBTC scraps 3.8bn baht telehealth project over budget concerns

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The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) board members have voted against the development of a 3.8 billion baht telehealth project, citing misalignment with the objectives of the Universal Service Obligation (USO) project budget.

The majority of board members argued that the USO project’s focus should be on supporting telecom network installation and expansion to bridge the digital divide, while the telehealth project primarily invests in IT systems such as cloud server systems.

At the board’s third meeting, four members voted to scrap the project, while three, including NBTC chairman Dr Sarana Boonbaichaiyapruck, supported it. The majority emphasised that they were not blocking useful projects but highlighted the telehealth proposal’s deviation from the USO policy. They also expressed concerns about potential legal risks for the board if the project were approved.

Instead, the board members have asked management to consider other projects related to the public health system, such as expanding telecom networks in sub-districts to support hospitals in border areas. The NBTC had piloted the telehealth project two years ago during the Covid-19 pandemic, spending over 100 million baht on a pilot focused on subsidising telecom infrastructure and 5G networks.

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The now-cancelled telehealth project was part of the third USO plan, which had a combined budget of 8 billion baht for 13 projects. Dr Sarana previously explained that the project aimed to cover 1,194 sub-district hospitals across the country, potentially benefiting 5-10% or 50,000 patients registered with various ministries. He also emphasised that the NBTC’s telehealth project did not overlap with those of other ministries but would work together to benefit people with the same standards, reports Bangkok Post.

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