3G auction derailed at eleventh hour by court injunction

17 Sep 2010

Thailand’s Central Administration Court has issued an injunction suspending the auction of 3G mobile licences scheduled for Monday 20 September, after it upheld a petition from state-run telco CAT Telecom claiming that the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) lacks the legal authority to issue 2100MHz spectrum. CAT also complained that certain 3G licensing regulations create unfair competition and that the award of full licences to privately owned cellcos outside of their existing revenue-sharing contracts with CAT and sister telco TOT will cause an unacceptable loss of revenues for the state enterprises. TOT – currently the country’s sole 2100MHz licensee – has also lodged a legal challenge to the auction based on similar arguments, whilst the NTC said it planned to appeal the decision to the Supreme Administrative Court. If the regulator’s appeal is unsuccessful, the 3G licensing process will await the formation of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) to take responsibility for next generation spectrum allocation as per the Frequency Allocation Bill, which is pending final approval by the House of Representatives. The Bill was approved by the House in March, and was later endorsed by the Senate but with several amendments, including an increase in the number of NBTC board members from 11 to 15. The new legislation has to be further scrutinised by the joint committee of the House and Senate, and is expected to be returned to the House over the next few months for final approval. Meanwhile a committee formed by the ministries of ICT and finance is working to address the issues involved in a plan to convert build-transfer-operate (BTO) revenue-sharing concessions in a post-3G licensing environment. The plan must take into account the interests of the private cellcos – AIS, DTAC and True Move, the only 3G bidding applicants thus far – and their BTO network ‘hosts’ CAT and TOT.