Dtac has called for greater clarity in Thailand’s upcoming Digital Economy laws, especially the provision where spectrum can be allocated for good causes as well as via auction.
Speaking in a panel at the Thai Netizen Network end of year conference, Dtac VP for government relations Pichit Kaewmakoon said that Thailand urgently needs a clear spectrum roadmap and said that the commercial players can adjust to whatever is given to them if they know what is coming.
Today Thailand has an independent telecom regulator but that is under threat in the new constitution and Digital Economy laws that are being drafted.
Pichit called for the constitution to hold true to the concept of an independent regulator as was enshrined in the 1997 and 2007 constitutions.
However, the problem is that the draft Digital Economy laws would seem to put the telecom regulator under a new Digital Economy Commission that is chaired by the Prime Minister, which is clearly curtailing its independence.
More importantly is that the Digital Economy Commission will issue a Digital Economy plan for the whole ICT sector. The Dtac VP said that he hoped the plan would only set long term goals without going into the how, otherwise the telecom regulator would be left only as a caretaker of the government goals.
A government would have conflict of interest as it has two players, CAT Telecom and TOT Corporation.
More specifically, Pichit said that the current Digital Economy bill is very ambiguous in how the concept of allocating spectrum for the greater good would work. The problem would be if the regulator were to allocate based on a beauty pageant or partially based on a beauty pageant and bid, a case which would be open to subjectivity.
Dtac called for the law to be rewritten so that the greater good clause would apply to everyone who won a commercial bid, rather than being taken into account in the selection process.
Asked about the controversy over Internet.org’s free but unencrypted Internet access in India, Pichit said that he was waiting for the telecom regulator to start talking about net neutrality and hope that Thailand would follow in the lines of the FCC.
Earlier, fellow panellist NBTC commissioner Supinya Klangnarong spoke of the need for state telcos CAT and TOT to find their niche in the market, perhaps by providing a budget broadband connectivity service to the poor.
Supinya said that the new NBTC law would be a return to the past with power lying in the ministries. Ultimately whoever makes the decisions would be a kingmaker in the telecoms industry.
Dr Supot Teerawut from Chulalongkorn University’s faculty of engineering heavily criticised the roll-out requirements of Thailand’s 4G auctions (1800 and 900) which only called for 40% coverage. That aside, he noted that Thailand’s Internet penetration was progressing steadily with more Internet users than fixed line subscribers. This was also the year non-voice revenue exceeded voice revenue.
Supot said that Thailand geographically should be a regional hub but CAT Telecom had been charging exorbitant prices for landing. New fiber-optic landing sites cannot be constructed due to environmental concerns so CAT has a de-facto monopoly. He said if the government was serious about the the digital economy and reducing cost of access, liberalisation of the fiber-optic network was key, but instead the government is trying to centralise everything, referring to the controversial Single Gateway project.
Asked if Dtac’s brand-spanking new 1800-MHz 4G network under the concession would be used for some sort of USO project after the concession ends in 2018, Pichit said simply that the 25.3 MHz network would be transferred to CAT according to the concession agreement.