Deputy PM denies spectrum auction will be delayed; PM, ministry, regulator not so sure

27 Feb 2015

Thailand’s deputy prime minister Pridiyathorn Devakula said yesterday that the auction for technology-neutral (4G) mobile spectrum (900MHz and 1800MHz) licences will proceed by September this year as scheduled, denying reports this week quoting regulatory sources which indicated the frequency sale could be postponed due to delays in necessary legislation being passed. The Bangkok Post quotes the deputy PM telling a seminar that the auction will ‘definitely’ occur by September, as a decision on the 4G licensing would be made by ‘mid-March’, whilst it would take ‘four months’ to complete the process – compared to the ‘six months’ the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission (NBTC) claimed in an earlier report. Pridiyathorn added: ‘The NBTC has the authority to manage the process, and we’re not going to override the NBTC’s power like many have been speculating.’ However, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, speaking at a separate event, was more cautious on the 4G licensing schedule, cited by The Nation as saying that he wants to see the 4G licence auction take place as soon as possible, but adding: ‘There’s also a need to see if it could be done under the present law. If so, then the auction could go ahead.’ Meanwhile, the prerequisite National Digital Economy Committee Bill has passed from the Council of State, and is going through the National Legislative Assembly, with the expectation of being passed into law in ‘a couple of months.’ The earliest date the auction could take place is late-July, under a one-year postponement order issued by the military-backed government – the National Council for Peace and Order – in July 2014.

Meanwhile, a separate potential stumbling block was flagged up by Thailand’s ICT Ministry this week, quoted by The Nation as saying it wants ‘to completely settle the fight over network ownership by state and private telecoms before the 4G auction can take place’, declaring: ‘We need to resolve the disputes, especially over ownership of telecommunications towers and infrastructure under the concessions, as these assets will be the keys for business expansion under the new licences.’ Upon expiry of legacy build-transfer-operate (BTO) concessions, the private operators are ostensibly obliged to transfer certain assets to the state telecom enterprises which awarded their concession. State-run CAT Telecom and Thailand’s second-largest cellco DTAC are engaged in a legal ownership battle over 10,419 telecom towers under a BTO concession, while CAT and True Move (part of True Corp) are in arbitration disputes over 8,031 telecom towers. Market leader AIS and CAT’s sister telco TOT are clashing over who owns 13,198 telecom towers under a BTO concession. The 1800MHz BTO concessions of True and AIS’ subsidiary DPC expired in September 2013, whilst the 900MHz BTO concession of AIS expires at the end of September 2015. DTAC’s 850MHz/1800MHz BTO concession runs until 2018.