Regulator to blame for Thai telecom mess

17 Jun 2011

Sometimes one wonders if certain individuals are just stupid or if they are putting on an elaborate play to mislead the people.

Back in September last year when the NTC was on the verge of auctioning off a (very badly designed) 2.1 GHz 3G auction, state owned CAT Telecom, fearful of losing its revenue share filed a gaggle of lawsuits with the administrative court to block the bid. It complained about everything from the earth to the moon and beyond, and it won an injunction.

Everyone in Thailand remembers that. Everyone also remembers that the NTC has since then gone into neutral gear and has been afraid of doing anything lest they do not have the authority to do so and has plunged the industry into chaos, more specifically the import licences for CAT's 3G equipment.

That is what everyone remembers, but it is not quite what happened.

Two NTC commissioners in particular, who shall be referred to henceforth as the Dynamic Duo, have hammed that into the minds of the media for months and months. Only problem is, that fact that are now ingrained in the social consciousness never happened. Inception in the real world.

Yes, CAT sued the NTC over many, many points. Yes, they won an injunction on the 3G auction and yes, the NTC has been dragging its feet on fears that it may not have the authority to issue the said import licences.

But there is a missing link. While one of the (many) allegations that CAT made included one that the NTC did not have authority for an auction (as the NTC would have to wait for its sister National Broadcasting Commission to agree on allocation, which was never set up), that was not the one that led to the injunction.

The Administrative Court accepted the case on grounds that the NTC might not have authority, which was to be decided at a later date, but it granted the injunction on a technicality; that the old frequency allocation act clearly stated that allocation had to be according to a frequency master plan; a spectrum map. Without the plan, the auction could not continue as it was in violation of the law.

So the mess that Thailand is in is not because of CAT per se, but because the NTC did not do their homework.

The Dynamic Duo, eager to save face, have gone on a media juggernaught blaming everything on CAT rather than their own failure to draw up a frequency map and the mainstream media have latched on to that.

It is like Lewinsky and Clinton all over again. He was indicted for lying under oath to the senate. He was found guilty of sexual misconduct.

So fast forward half a year and now CAT wants to do its own 3G network (with True, but enough of them for one day). It wants to import equipment and NTC says that it cannot issue licences because of the lawsuit.
Two weeks ago, one of the Dynamic Duo did not turn up for work so that the NTC board lacked quorum and the matter of the import licences was put off.

The point is that they could and they would have to issue the import licences, so they, in their infinite wisdom, decided to sandbag the process by walking out. Silly? Petty? Perhaps, but it was effective. Meanwhile, the general public still believed that they were just abiding by the court order rather than putting on an elaborate play.

So in the end, a deal was made. CAT would withdraw its lawsuit (half of it at least) in exchange for the import licences and everyone lived happily ever after. Never mind the rule of law, the lack of the frequency master plan and that the reason for the injunction in the first place. That is just a minor detail long forgotten by the general public. The Dynamic Duo gets to save their face and gain the love of the people (never mind that they did not do their homework) and CAT gets a bit of flak but gets to carry on with its devious plan to rule the world (with True).

The few people who have actually read the judgement and read the law, meanwhile, are left scratching their heads and wondering why they even bother.

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