NBTC gets tough on rule-breaking telecom operators
Looking to show that it is serious about enforcing consumer-protection regulations, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission has ordered five telecom operators to start paying retroactive fines totalling about Bt50 million for failing to comply with numerous regulations.Meanwhile, the Office of the Ombudsman filed an appeal with the Supreme Administrative Court late last month against the Central Administrative Court's dismissal of the Ombudsman's petition against the NBTC's auction of the 2.1-gigahertz spectrum. The appeal reached the upper court on WednesdayJanuary 2.
NBTC secretary-general Takorn Tantasit said yesterday that the commission had issued separate orders to the five telecom firms to start paying the fines.
It yesterday imposed a fine of Bt20,000 a day on TOT for failing to follow its order on December 26, 2008, to enter a network-interconnection agreement with Total Access Communication (DTAC). The fine took effect retroactively from October 8, 2010. DTAC and TOT are in talks over a possible network-interconnection deal.
The regulator yesterday also ordered DTAC, Advanced Info Service (AIS) and TrueMove to stop setting validity periods for their prepaid mobile phone services, as the practice violates Clause 11 of the 2006 regulations on standard telecom service contracts. The regulations forbid telecom operators from setting validity periods on prepaid services unless permitted to do so by the NBTC. Yesterday it ordered each of them to pay a fine of Bt100,000 daily, effective May 30, 2012.
The NBTC first imposed the Bt100,000 daily fine on them on that date. Later the firms appealed against the order to the NBTC, but the agency's telecom committee declined to relax the order, saying it was lawful.
"We'll impose a higher fine if they continue to refuse to follow the NBTC order in this case," Takorn said.
The NBTC yesterday also ordered DTAC, AIS, CAT Telecom and TOT to start paying a daily fine of Bt80,000 for failing to register information relating to their prepaid mobile-phone service users, in line with 2008 mobile-numbering regulations. This does not apply to TrueMove, as the company won a Central Administrative Court injunction suspending the NBTC's order in this case until the court orders otherwise.
The NBTC first slapped this fine on the five firms last June 5. They appealed against the order but the commission declined to relax it.
Later, the NBTC warned them again to follow the order or it would impose fines of at least Bt20,000 a day. Then it decided to impose the daily fine of Bt80,000, but they appealed against the fine. The NBTC telecom committee considered their appeal last month and upheld the order.
However, a source at one telecom operator said he doubted the NBTC would be able to enforce some of the regulations, as mobile-phone users have shown little willingness to cooperate with the operators in certain areas, such as the requirement that they provide personal information when signing up for prepaid phone services.
In a separate matter, the Ombudsman's spokesman, Rakkecha Chachai, said yesterday that it was within the Ombudsman's jurisdiction to challenge the NBTC's 2.1GHz spectrum auction. The Constitution empowers the Ombudsman to petition to the Administrative Court if the case is deemed to affect the public.
The Ombudsman submitted the petition to the Central Administrative Court on November 8, claiming the NBTC spectrum auction on October 16 lacked free and fair competition. It also asked for a court injunction suspending the issuance of licences won in that auction for third-generation cellular service.
The court dismissed its petition on December 3, saying the Ombudsman had no power to probe the NBTC's board, as its members are not state officials. Therefore, the court declined to accept the case for judicial review.
The NBTC awarded the licences to the auction winners on December 11.