NBTC open to amending regulations on foreign investors

Economy November 17, 2011 00:00

By Usanee Mongkolporn
The Nation

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The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) might consider revising the regulations governing foreign dominance of the telecom sector amid concerns that the current rules might contravene the country's free-trade principles.

The watchdog’s telecom committee will hold a hearing among specific groups of people on November 30 about the regulations, NBTC commissioner Suthiphon Thaveechaiyagarn said. After the hearing, the commission will see whether they need to be amended.

An NBTC source said it was likely to revise the regulations or even consider abrogating them.

The regulations were introduced on August 31 by the NBTC’s predecessor, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).

The NBTC is of the view that it should hold a hearing, as there are still different points of view on the issue.

The regulations have been opposed by many parties on the ground that they discourage foreign investment in Thailand and might contravene the country’s commitment to global organisations regarding free trade. Supporters of the regulations are of the view that they are needed to protect the telecommunications spectra, which are a precious national resource, and national interest.

The NBTC telecom committee will invite those with a range of backgrounds from law to economics as well as representatives from embassies and foreign chambers of commerce to take part in the hearing.

The hearing is also in line with the NBTC plan to improve its existing regulations to bring maximum benefit to the telecom and broadcast industries.

The now-defunct NTC took many years to develop the draft of such regulations. It believed they were necessary to protect Thai businesses and the economy during this period of market liberalisation under the country’s commitment to the Asean Economic Community. It was also concerned about the use of nominees to hold shares in local telecom companies on behalf of foreigners to the point where actual foreign shareholding exceeds the permissible level of 49 per cent.

However, many foreign business organisations in Thailand were opposed to the regulations even when they were in the draft stage, arguing that they would have negative implications for current and future foreign operators investing in the country.

The regulations define foreign dominance as direct and indirect control over a company’s policies and appointment of directors and high-ranking management.

Advanced Info Service has Singapore Telecom as strategic partner and Total Access Communication (DTAC) has Norway’s Telenor.

In a separate matter, Sutipol yesterday abruptly tendered his resignation from the post of NBTC spokesman, citing the need to ensure unity when announcing any information to the public.

According to an NBTC release, Sutipol, who was the first spokesman after the creation of the watchdog in October, said he believed the commission should not have two spokesmen at the same time, as this could lead to confusion when giving information to the public. He was referring to the NBTC board’s appointment of another commissioner, Supinya Klangnarong, as a spokeswoman on November 9.

Suthiphon said he had never seen any organisation have two spokesmen. Therefore, he had tendered his resignation to the board yesterday.

He added that his resignation would give him more time for his role as commissioner in improving the telecom sector’s regulations. He said he supported Supinya as the sole NBTC spokeswoman.