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Foreign stake in telecoms under microscope

The telecommunications regulator will strictly examine foreign ownership in telecom operators to prevent foreign dominance in the industry and to protect national security.

This follows online reports that a representative of Telenor Group of Norway, the major shareholder of Total Access Communication, disclosed that DTAC was ordered to prevent its customers from accessing Facebook on May 28 by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

Tor Odland, vice president of Telenor Asia, wrote in an e-mail to Aftenposten, a Norwegian newspaper, that the company received a call from the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), which has been under the NCPO since the May 22 coup, asking it temporarily to stop its customers entering Facebook.

The restriction was carried out at 3.35pm, affecting about 10 million DTAC users, Odland said.

Denial over Facebook blockade

Settapong Malisuwan, chairman of the NBTC's telecom committee, denied that the commission ordered DTAC to block its subscribers from accessing Facebook.

He said he was unhappy about the reports. If Thailand seems to have a lot of trouble, Telenor should go invest somewhere else, he said.

Army deputy spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvari also made a similar denial.

Settapong said foreign ownership in the telecom industry needed to be strictly examined, since communication is key to protecting national security.

The NBTC will set up a committee to probe the direct and indirect shareholdings of foreign entities in telecom operators. This is the commission's duty and complies with regulations, and everyone will be treated on an equal basis, he said.

The NBTC has also reviewed whether it is appropriate to allow foreign ownership in the telecom operators at the present maximum of 49 per cent under the Telecom Business Act and Foreign Business Act.

Telecom operators cannot take part in the licence auctions for segments of the 1,800- and 900-megahertz spectra this year if they are found to breach the foreign-ownership law and NBTC

regulations governing foreign dominance in the telecom business, he said.

An NBTC source said DTAC was the first target of the commission's foreign-ownership probe. Next are Advanced Info Service and True Corp.


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