A government plan to ease the 4G licence payment terms of Thailand’s two largest mobile operators – AIS and True Move – drew sharp criticism from a research institute, as well as a call from third-ranked dtac for a similar extension in the upcoming spectrum auction.
Under a plan submitted by the acting National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), the prime minister is considering giving AIS and True Move five-year extensions to pay for 900MHz spectrum. The operators each owe the government about THB60 billion ($1.9 billion), which is due in 2019.
Following complaints by the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) two weeks ago, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha asked NBTC to submit its reasoning behind the proposed relaxation of payment terms. The regulator said the government would be able to earn THB3.6 billion in interest payments from the two operators and the relief plan would free up funds for the companies to participate in the planned 1.8GHz auction.
The cabinet is expected to rule on the plan tomorrow (10 April).
DTRI chairman Somkiat Tangkitvanich discribed NTBC’s plan as “strange logic”, since AIS and True Move haven’t indicated any signs of financial difficultly, the newspaper said. “If they are unable to pay in lump sums, they should be fined at a punitive rate of 15 per cent a year stipulated in the contract, not the 1.5 per cent the NBTC hopes to get,” he said in a Facebook post.
In late March, the State Council, an advisory body reporting to Thailand’s prime minister on legislative matters, ruled the acting NBTC board has the authority to hold an auction of spectrum in the 850MHz and 1.8GHz bands. An NBTC board member suggested in early March the auction couldn’t be held until a new board takes over later in the year because the acting board, whose six-year term expired in October 2017, would no longer be able to make policy decisions at the end of March.
An original draft of the planned auctions was approved by the NBTC board and passed a public hearing in December 2017. But a revised plan, calling for the number of slots offered in the 1.8GHz band to be increased from three to nine to make the sale more competitive, hasn’t been approved by the acting board as some members disagree with the amendment. NBTC has not made a final decision on the design of the auction.
In November 2017 the NBTC set the reserve price for the 10MHz block of 850MHz spectrum at THB37.98 billion, while the base price for each 30MHz block in the 1.8GHz band was set at THB37.45 billion. Operators and analysts complained at the time the prices were high compared with international levels.