Thailand: is anyone in charge here?

Don Sambandaraksa

Thailand: is anyone in charge here?

May 27, 2011

The powers that be must be on a sadistic streak when it comes to Thailand’s mobile industry. After all the revelations and lawsuits of the past couple of weeks, just as analysts thought nothing could surprise them anymore, along comes the regulator absolving itself of its responsibilities, telling the industry that the controversial CAT-True 3G deal is not under its jurisdiction. And yet, it is holding it up by refusing to issue import permits for the equipment.

Think-tank Thailand Development and Research Institution (TDRI) was among the first to come out criticising the deal as a back-door concession on the cheap with huge losses to the exchequer and that it broke the country’s PPP laws and Frequency Allocation Act, particular Article 46 that says a licensee must use the frequency itself. Later DTAC sued CAT in the Adminisitrative court to try and block the deal, but an injunction request was denied and the court case will have to run its course over many more months if not years.

The National Telecommunication Commission (NTC) Board as acting National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC, a converged regulator under the new 2007 Constitution) convened on Wednesday. Immediately afterwards, Commissioner Colonel Dr Natee Sukonrat announced the board decided that the CAT-True 3G deal does not fall under its jurisdiction. Whether the contract fell under the Public-Private Joint Investment Act or not was up to the relevant agencies, not the NBTC.

Natee said that such contracts made by any licensee in the private sector were not a matter for the NBTC, unless it was international.

He explained that the NBTC board are responsible for three areas. These were competition issues to prevent a monopoly; adherence to NTC regulations on wholesale and retail of telecommunications services; and finally the allocation of spectrum or partial or whole use of spectrum by another party.

Quite how the True-CAT deal does not fall under competition or spectrum use clauses given in his very own statement is open to debate.

Controversially, he also said that many in the NTC did not agree with Article 46 of the Frequency Allocation Act (the no sub-letting clause), and that the board have to carefully consider its economic, legal, competition and public interest implications to prevent widespread industry disruption.

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