The telecom industry is facing a dilemma, with the national telecom committee's approval to grant the long-awaited licences for the 2.1-gigahertz spectrum and the Ombudsman's decision to fight against the licensing coming on the same day.
The five-member telecom committee of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commis-sion (NBTC) yesterday voted 4-1 to grant the spectrum licences as well as to license the three companies that successfully bid for slots on the spectrum to provide third-generation broadband cellular service, committee chairman Settapong Malisuwan said.
The committee will also require them to offer low 3G service tariffs.
Also yesterday, however, the Ombudsman board decided to lodge an appeal with the Supreme Admin-istrative Court as soon as possible. This follows the Central Administra-tive Court’s dismissal on Monday of a petition by the Ombudsman to take under judicial review the alleged lack of free and fair competition in the NBTC’s 2.1GHz spectrum auction.
Ombudsman spokesman Rakke-chai Chachai said the office had to make the appeal within 30 days and had hoped to lodge it before the telecom committee’s awarding of the 2.1GHz licences.
However, the 15-year licences took effect yesterday, with the expiry date set at December 6, 2027. The NBTC office is expected to call in the three companies to receive the licences next week.
The three winners of slots on the spectrum are Advanced Wireless Network of Advanced Info Service (AIS), DTAC Network of Total Access Communication (DTAC), and Real Future of True Corp. The share price of AIS closed at Bt213 yesterday, down 1.39 per cent. DTAC’s share price closed at Bt87.75, up 0.57 per cent. True closed at Bt4.96, down 2.75 per cent.
NBTC commissioner Suthiphon Thaveechaiyagarn said the telecom committee also passed a resolution to attach to the licences a condition requiring them to offer tariffs 15 per cent lower than the average of both voice and data tariff fees of all telecom operators as of December 7.
This condition relates to the 2.1GHz licensing regulations that the licence holders must offer fair tariffs and ensure service quality.
Under Article 15 of the telecom business law, the NBTC has the authority to determine licence holders’ service tariffs and service types.
“This is an administrative order. If they refuse to comply … punitive measures range from warnings to revocation of the licence,” Suthiphon said.
Settapong said mobile-phone tariffs had already declined by 10 per cent, while the 3G licence holders would have lower regulatory costs, which could enable them to manage the 15-per-cent reduction.
The three winners of the 2.1GHz auction, which took place in October, have insisted that market forces are the best way to ensure that they compete with one another by offering low service fees to woo consumers.
DTAC chief corporate affairs officer Darmp Sukonthasap said he hoped the NBTC and all the bid winners had a chance to discuss the tariff issue before the telecom committee attaches such a condition to the licences.
DTAC chief executive officer Jon Eddy Abdullah said the company was pleased that the licences would be granted, as Thai consumers would benefit from telecom services under the NBTC licensing regime.
“The market is the most efficient mechanism to drive retail rates,” he said.
“It is the network interconnection rate and wholesale rates that are normally where the regulator gets involved. The industry needs to work with the NBTC on how best to move forward to serve the customers.”
He declined to comment when asked whether DTAC would oppose condition mandating fees 15 per cent lower than the average rate.