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Thailand telecoms body urged to grant licences to 3G winners
Publication Date : 02-11-2012
The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission in Thailand should press ahead with issuing the three 2.1-gigahertz spectrum licences or it will risk violating its own regulations, industry heavyweights and a scholar said yesterday.
Sudharma Yoonaidharma, dean of the law school at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce and a former member of the now-defunct National Telecommunications Commission, said the regulator could withhold the licences only if a court or state authority ordered it to do so, if they found irregularities in the auction process.
Under the terms of the spectrum auction held last month, the NBTC has to grant licences to the bid winners within 90 days of approving the outcome. It staged the spectrum auction on October 16 and approved the results on October 18.
Sudharma said the watchdog had to observe its own licensing regulations strictly. If not, it would find it difficult to regulate the market with any credibility.
It would also face a charge of negligence of duty if it failed to observe its own rules.
But he supports those who questioned the NBTC telecom committee's decision to set the reserve price of the nine spectrum slots at 4.5 billion baht (US$146 million) per slot, which some parties say is too low. He said this was just the checks-and-balances system in action.
He made the remarks at a seminar on the benefits of third-generation wireless broadband hosted by King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Ladkrabang. The 2.1GHz slots will be used for 3G service.
Vichai Bencharongkul, president of the Telecommunications Association of Thailand, said he strongly supported the NBTC going ahead with granting the licences. That will free the telecom industry from the existing concession system under the control of CAT Telecom and TOT.
The Bencharongkul family founded Total Access Communication (DTAC), whose subsidiary DTAC Network was one of the three winners of three 2.1GHz spectrum slots.
The licensing regime will encourage operators to invest in setting up the 3G network to offer faster and better cellular services, as some have been discouraged from spending as they will end up having to transfer their network assets to TOT or CAT once their concessions end, he said.
Somporn Maneeratanakul, president of the Association of the Thai Software Industry, said he wanted to see full 3G service in place so that software developers can cash in on it to provide applications to consumers.
Tawil Paungma, president of King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Ladkrabang, said the NBTC's auction of the spectrum proceeded according to laws and regulations.
However, the NBTC telecom committee might need more time to complete the investigation into a possible conspiracy among the three bidders before it can consider going ahead with the awarding of licences.
The NBTC's fact-finding committee met for the first time on Tuesday and will summon the three bid winners for questioning soon. It is scheduled to wrap up the probe by November 10, but the deadline can be extended by 15 days if necessary. This has raised doubts about whether the telecom committee can grant the licences so soon.
On Monday, the three bid winners jointly refuted all public allegations of scheming to rig the bidding.
The NBTC probe results will be submitted to the watchdog's telecom committee and the National Anti-Corruption Commission, which is examining whether the telecom panel's approval of the bid outcome breaches the State Bidding Act of 1999.