After 66 hours and 162 rounds, Thailand’s 900MHz auction stands at a staggering $3.6 billion (130,378 million baht) with no let up in sight.
In context, this is almost double the entire amount Temasek paid for Thaksin Shinwatra’s Shin Corporation (owner of AIS) back in 2006 ($1.88 billion or 73 billion baht). Or, put another way, it is already 20.7% of the entire government spending budget of Thailand.
With the bidders enclosed in sealed suites for the fourth day, little information was available to those in the outside world except that in round 156 at 4 AM, three of the four bidders bid on the lower of the two blocks and the upper block was a hold, meaning that all four bidders are still active (three bidding on the lower, one holding on the upper).
The weary telecom executives now enter the fourth day of the planned three day auction and are on to their last change of fresh clothes.
NBTC Secretary-General Takorn Tantasit asked three of the telcos if they wanted an extended rest period, he did not ask AIS as they have always asked for even the existing rest periods to be cancelled to speed up the auction. Both Jas Mobile and TrueMove said no to the offer of an extended rest period, meaning that only the team led by Dtac CEO Lars Norling had voted for sleep.
In a further twist to prove that there is no real news to report, the NBTC also announced TrueMove has asked for permission to be let out of their enclosures to offer food to monks today as it is a Buddhist moon day. Takorn said that the NBTC would invite ten monks from the nearby temples and prepare food for the bidders to offer to the monks. True, Dtac and Jasmine would be let out of their bidding enclosures in turn so that they could not communicate and collude on the auction. AIS has declined the offer.
However, in a last minute change of plan, after a media army had already gathered to witness the monk’s alms round and to see the tired gladiators of the bidding war, the regulator cancelled the religious event and instead said that the food would be taken into the auction rooms for the bidders to pray upon and instead would be offered to the monks by the NBTC.
There has been a focus on the last-minute rule change to the 900MHz auction compared to last month’s 1800MHz auction which extends the payment period. The 1800 payment terms were 50%, then 25% and 25% in the second and third years. The remaining 50% needed a bank guarantee.
TrueMove courted controversy as it was very late in providing the bank guarantee for the other half of its 1800MHz licence.
Takorn Tantasit announced that for the 900MHz auction, the NBTC changed the rules to 50%, 25% and 25% of the estimated price (16,080 million Baht for each 10MHz licence) and the excess was to be paid in the 4th year to prevent the banks from fixing the auction in advance with bank guarantees limits. While this was not made explicitly clear, it would suggest that any excess to 16 billion baht would not need a bank guarantee or perhaps could be subject to relaxed rules.
But in any case what is certain is that if any of the bidders fail to pay, it would not be under this regulator’s watch as the six-year term for the current set of commissioners runs out in October 2017.