Thai ICT Ministry asks junta to sort spectrum mess

Thailand’s ICT Ministry and telecom regulator have given up on trying to talk sense into state telcos CAT and TOT and have urged the junta to use article 44, the absolute power clause in the interim constitution, to sort out the spectrum mess once and for all.

The announcement was made by ICT Minister Pornchai Rujiprapa after negotiations to end the deadlock broke down without any agreement. Prime MInister General Prayuth Chanocha had given Pornchai 30 days to sort out the mess back on 27 July.

Outstanding issues do not only include spectrum, but also infrastructure, refusal of telcos to transfer concessionary assets under the build-transfer-operate concession and disagreements over the interconnection and access charge calculations

Thailand has a 4G auction of 20 MHz of 900-MHz and 30 MHz of 1800-MHz pencilled in for November.

CAT wants 20 MHz of 1800-MHz to run a network and recently asked permission from the national broadcasting and telecommunications commission to launch a 4G network on its its 850-MHz and 1800-MHz bands until 2025. CAT sort of has 10 MHz of 850 MHz that it has sort of outsourced to TrueMove to set up a network for which TrueMove is an MVNO and sort of has 20 MHz on 1800 that it recalled from Dtac.

Dtac had a 25 MHz block of 1800-MHz under concession that it was using before CAT recalled it in 2013. That concession and its 850-MHz concession end in 2018 and under the current frequency act must be returned to the regulator for re-allocation through competitive auction.

Both former Dtac CEOs Tore Jonsen and Jon Eddy Abdullah have clearly stated that under the concession terms that spectrum is either Dtac’s or must be recalled for re-allocation under the regulator’s idle spectrum clause and that there is no provision for CAT using it for its own network to compete with Dtac.

Indeed, Jonsen had said that such a move by CAT Telecom would be a breach of Thailand’s WTO obligations.

TOT meanwhile wants 10 MHz of 900-MHz spectrum and AIS’ customers once that concession ends this September. AIS currently has 17.5 MHz and TOT has freed up another 2.5 MHz to allow for 20 MHz available on 900. The rest of 900 is edged out by 850-MHz. TOT’s labour union is pulling out all stops trying to stop the auction so that it gets its way.

Responding to these reports, Thailand Development and Research Institute president Dr Somkiat Tangkitvanich expressed his doubts as to whether the auction would now go ahead as it seems clear that the two state telcos will undoubtedly file lawsuits calling for injunctions.

CAT Telecom successfully halted the 2010 3G auction on a technicality; that the regulator had not published a spectrum roadmap. Dtac has noted the same is also true for this upcoming auction.

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