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NBTC clears legal hurdle, ready to issue 3G licences

Dec 04. 2012
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By Sirivish Toomgum
The Nation

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The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) will award the long-awaited 2.1-gigahertz spectrum licences this month.

Settapong Malisuwan, chairman of the NBTC’s telecom committee, said yesterday that he wanted to issue the licences as a New Year gift to consumers. His remark followed the Central Administrative Court’s ruling yesterday declining to admit for judicial review the Ombudsman’s petition claiming a lack of free and fair competition at the October auction of bandwidth slots on the spectrum. The court also dismissed the case.

The Ombudsman petitioned on November 8 that the NBTC’s 2.1GHz spectrum auction and the issuance of the licensing regulations were unlawful, because of the lack of free and fair competition in the auction as required by the Constitution and the Frequency Allocation Act. It also urged the court to cancel the regulations related to licences to operate on the spectrum and to issue an injunction suspending the licensing.
Settapong said the telecom committee would convene on Friday to consider the court ruling and the conclusions of the telecom committee panel that it found no evidence to prove collusion among the three bid winners. 
“After that, we will proceed to grant the licences to the bid winners before the end of this month,” Settapong added. 
NBTC secretary-general Takorn Tantasit said that if the telecom committee approves the conclusions of its sub-panel investigating possible collusion, the committee would go ahead and grant the licences, which according to the terms of the auction should be granted before December 20. 
The share price of Advanced Info Service (AIS) yesterday closed at Bt220, unchanged from the close on Friday, while Total Access Communication (DTAC) dropped 0.85 per cent from Bt87.75 on Friday. The share price of True Corp closed at Bt5.10, up 2 per cent from the Friday close of Bt5.
Advanced Wireless Network of AIS, DTAC Network of DTAC, and Real Future of True were the three winners of slots on the 2.1GHz spectrum at the auction on October 16. They intend to use the bandwidth to provide third-generation cellular service.
Settapong did not rule out the possibility of a new legal challenge but he is confident the NBTC has developed all licensing processes according to the law and regulations.
Senator Paiboon Nititawan will today ask the Ombudsman to petition the Constitution Court to examine whether the NBTC’s telecom committee has the authority to endorse the auction outcome, claiming that the charter states that it is the NBTC’s board that has authority to approve the spectrum allocation.
DTAC chief executive officer Jon Eddy Abdullah said he hoped the NBTC would go ahead and grant the licences. 
Pratthana Leelapanang, AIS vice president for value-added service business, said at a seminar of the CEO Networking Forum on “Going Beyond 3G: Opportunities and Competition” that AIS was ready to invest in the 3G network. The seminar was co-hosted by the NBTC and the Stock Exchange of Thailand yesterday. 
Speaking at the same seminar, Adhiruth Thotaveensaksuk, managing director for mobile-phone business at True Corp, said all operators were waiting for regulatory certainty and it would become clear once they got the licences.
According to the court ruling yesterday, the Ombudsman has no power to probe the NBTC board as it does not comprise state officials. Therefore, the court declined to accept the case for judicial review. 
Speaking for the Ombudsman, Rakkecha Chachai said the Ombudsman board would consider whether to appeal against the ruling.
According to Somkiat Tangkitvanich, president of the Thailand Development Research Institute, the court’s ruling means Thai consumers will soon have 3G service available. 
But he added that NBTC should not assume the court ruling is an approval of its auction terms and conditions.
Regarding the court’s reason for dismissing the case, the Green Group led by activist Suriyasai Katasila said he was doubtful whether any state authorities could file a legal challenge against NBTC regarding the auction. He planned to approach the Central Administrative Court on this matter today. He will also ask the Ombudsman to appeal against the court ruling.
The NBTC will focus on the plan to auction the 1,800-megahertz spectrum next year, Settapong said.

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