CAT gets clause out: court to hear 3G objections

14 Sep 2010

Thailand’s Administrative Court agreed yesterday to hear a motion from state-run CAT Telecom calling for an injunction to temporarily halt the 3G mobile licence auction scheduled for Monday 20 September, reports the Bangkok Post. The court said it would summon members of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) board over the next few days to answer the accusations by CAT executives that the NTC lacks the authority to hold a 3G auction and that the planned licence awards would cause CAT and sister telco TOT losses of more than THB40 billion (USD1.3 billion) per year. The 3G auction will be at risk if the NTC cannot sufficiently prove it has the authority to hold an auction, whilst it must also deflect CAT’s claim that the licensing conditions are unfair because of a rule that allows 3G licensees to roam on 2G networks though 2G operators are banned from roaming on 3G. The country’s three privately-run national GSM mobile operators – AIS, DTAC and True Move – are the sole qualified bidders in the 2100MHz UMTS auction, but their 2G build-transfer-operate (BTO) revenue-sharing concession agreements with CAT and TOT run until 2015-2018. CAT is arguing that if 3G licences are granted to the BTO operators, they will move most of their customers to their new networks to lower their concession fees to the state-run telcos. However, TeleGeography notes that a specially appointed state committee is currently working on the details of converting the BTO mobile concession agreements to full licences, including proposed mechanisms for compensating TOT and CAT.

CAT Telecom’s president Jirayuth Roonsrithong, who filed the case, wants to halt the 3G auction pending Parliament’s passing of the Frequency Allocation bill, establishing a sole regulator, the National Broadcasting & Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), which is to allocate 3G spectrum and hold any auctions. TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database says that in October 2007 the interim Cabinet approved the Ministry of Information & Communication Technology’s (MICT’s) draft amendments to the Frequency Allocation Act, including the transferral of 3G responsibilities to the NBTC (under the country’s new constitution of that year); however, the passing of the bill to form the NBTC was delayed. It was reportedly under consideration by the lower house as of late August 2010, with final approval mooted for the fourth quarter. Meanwhile – as the NTC will no doubt tell the court – the existing regulator has been granted permission to continue with the licensing of 3G services in the absence of the NBTC: an August 2006 decision by the Council of State — the government department responsible for law reform — stated that the NTC possessed responsibility for UMTS licensing.

Sources quoted by the Post said that TOT will file a similar suit with the court later this week asking to stop the 3G auction. A previous suit from a TOT employee objecting to the 3G process – not directly representing the company’s board – was dismissed by a judge.

Thailand, CAT Telecom, TOT