Thailand’s ICT minister and telecoms regulator have separately issued statements each asserting that 4G mobile spectrum auctions will go ahead this year as anticipated, despite some reports claiming that the process would be suspended under new draft laws which reorganise responsibilities in frequency policy and authorisation. The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) has led a drive towards open auctions for 1800MHz and 900MHz spectrum, although the plan has been delayed under orders of the country’s military junta – the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) – initially for the purposes of inquiries into levels of transparency in Thai regulation, while this month a raft of legal amendments were approved which redistribute certain spectrum policy responsibilities to a new body, the Digital Policy Committee. As reported by the Bangkok Post, ICT Minister Pornchai Rujiprapa stated that the new committee ‘will be the sole authority to decide on details of 4G spectrum auctions’, although the NBTC ‘will be allowed to manage and handle the 4G auction during the formation of the digital economy panel, which is expected to be set up in April’. The minister also affirmed that the ICT Ministry ‘does not have the authority to decide on the auctions’ details.’ Mr Pornchai added that the NBTC would serve as an independent regulatory body as stated in the new NBTC bill, though it would be downgraded to only overseeing the allocation of spectra and governing competition in the telecom and broadcasting industries.
Earlier, the Bangkok Post reported a statement from the NBTC insisting that the 4G spectrum auctions will go ahead as planned without violating the draft bills recently endorsed by the cabinet. However, whether the NBTC will have the authority to manage the 4G auction process or manage spectrum in the future is still unclear, added NBTC vice-chairman Settapong Malisuwan. The commissioner also said that the NBTC would ask the NCPO next week if it could start proceeding with the 4G auction process, including revising all the details of the auction design, a process which would take six months to complete.
Under the new NBTC bill, the regulator would come under the supervision of the Digital Economy Committee and allocate 50% of its licence fees to the digital economy development fund. The NBTC would also be ‘downgraded’ to overseeing the allocation of spectra for public and industrial benefits and governing competition in the telecom and broadcasting industries. The bill would also scrap the NBTC’s twin telecom and broadcast committees, but not the NBTC board. The NBTC bill now passes to the Council of State before submission to the National Legislative Assembly for approval, and could take effect in April.