Court to rule on 3G challenge

Ombudsman seeks halt to 'unfair' auction results

The Administrative Court will rule today whether to order the suspension of 3G licences to the three bid winners.

Last month, the Office of the Ombudsman asked the court to suspend the granting of the 3G licences, claiming the auction lacked free and fair competition as required under the constitution.

Under the terms of the auction, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) is required to issue the licences within 90 days of approving the auction's outcome.

The results were endorsed on Oct 18, two days after the Oct 16 auction.

But while the NBTC's telecom committee works to issue the licences, the Office of the Ombudsman is seeking to stop it.

Boonyuen Siritham, chairwoman of the Confederation of Consumer Organisations, said the confederation will respect the court's decision whichever way it goes.

However, Ms Boonyuen said she will testify to the National Anti-Corruption Commission today and will present information to the anti-graft agency to investigate allegations of price collusion among 3G licence bidders.

"We have evidence to prove that the problems of the 3G auction stem from the NBTC's auction criteria which do not encourage competition and ignore the state's interests," she said.

"The criteria only benefited private companies."

She added the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) had jumped to conclusions in asserting there was no price collusion involved in the auction.

Last month, the DSI and a probe committee led by the House secretary-general said it found no irregularities in the 3G auction.

The auction did not involve any price collusion, DSI director-general Tarit Pengdith said.

The DSI launched the investigation into the auction after receiving a request to do so from NBTC secretary-general Thakorn Tanthasit.

Suvichak Nakwatcharachai, the secretary-general of the House who led the probe, said none of the bidders manipulated the auction and all of them complied completely with the auction terms set by the NBTC.

The auction sold licences for 3G mobile phone services on the 2.1 gigahertz spectrum. Advanced Info Service (AIS), Total Access Communication (Dtac) and True Move were the successful bidders. They were also the only contestants.

NBTC commissioner Suthiphon Thaveechaiyagarn said if the court accepts the petition by the Office of the Ombudsman for consideration, but does not issue an injunction to halt the granting of 3G licences, the NBTC's telecommunications committee will still issue the licences to the bid winners.

Mr Suthiphon is a member of the NBTC's telecommunications committee.

He believed if the court does not issue an injunction to suspend the granting of the licences, this means there is no need to hold a new auction.

However, if the court dismissed the petition by the Office of the Ombudsman and does not order the suspension of the licences, the Ombudsman is likely to take the case to the Supreme Administrative Court, Mr Suthiphon said.

If the Supreme Administrative Court accepts the petition for consideration and issues an injunction against the granting of the licences, the NBTC will have to cease the process to grant the licences and will also appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court, Mr Suthiphon said.

Prawit Leestapornwongsa, who sits on the NBTC's telecommunications committee, said if the court orders a new 3G auction, the committee has to negotiate with the bid winners, which have to abide by the court's ruling.

The committee has the authority to adjust the existing criteria for the auction without announcing the new ones which would cause further delay. Small companies should be able to enter the bidding under the adjusted auction criteria.

NBTC secretary-general Thakorn Tanthasit said in the event the court accepts the petition and issue an injunction against the granting of the licences, all the 3G procedures must stop.

The auction criteria must be amended, with a primary focus on adjusting the starting auction price. This process takes about five to six months.

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Writer: Mongkol Bangprapa & Nattaya Chetchotiros