The Administrative Court has cleared the way for the national frequency regulator to issue 3G licences after throwing out a lawsuit by the Office of the Ombudsman.
The suit sought to suspend the process of awarding licences to the three bid winners.
Dismissing the lawsuit, the court said the Ombudsman has no mandate to petition the court.
The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), which held the auction for 3G licences, does not have civil servant status, and so does not fall within the Ombudsman's jurisdiction, it found.
The court also noted the NBTC is authorised by the constitution to organise frequency auctions and issue related announcements. The court voted 4:2 to dismiss the lawsuit.
Chalermsak Chantaratim, secretary of the Office of the Ombudsman, said the agency will review the court's ruling before deciding whether to appeal.
The Oct 16 auction of nine slots of 2.1 GHz spectrum drew heavy criticism from academics, consumer rights activists and members of the public after it raised only 41.6 billion baht, just 1.1 billion or 2.8% more than the minimum reserve price of 40.5 billion baht.
The NBTC had to grant licences to the bid winners within 90 days after the results were endorsed, or by Jan 18.
Subsidiaries of the country's three major mobile phone operators _ Advanced Info Service (AIS), Total Access Communications (Dtac) and True Corp _ were the bid winners.
AIS's bid of 14.6 billion baht was nominally above the floor price of 13.5 billion baht, while Dtac and True won the licences without upping their bids.
The Ombudsman's Office agreed early last month to ask the Administrative Court to decide if the 3G auction conducted by the NBTC was free and fair and to issue an injunction halting the issuance of the licences until the court ruling was delivered.
Three petitions by Green Politics Group coordinator Suriyasai Katasila, the TOT labour union and senator Paiboon Nititawan, were earlier lodged against the auction result.
Mr Suriyasai said the group members will go to the court today to ask who or which organisation should have the authority to file charges against the NBTC.
The group will also petition the Ombudsman to appeal against the case to the Supreme Administrative Court, he added.
Senator Paiboon, a member of the Group of 40 senators, said he will ask the Constitution Court to rule on the telecom committee's authority to endorse the auction result.
He said the telecom committee, which is a sub-panel of the NBTC, has no authority to endorse the bid. It should be undertaken by the NBTC.
Mr Paiboon said he would lodge the petition with the Ombudsman to forward the issue to the Constitution Court to rule on the case today.
Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) president Somkiat Tangkitvanich yesterday asked the NBTC not to use the ruling to justify its auction.
"The ruling doesn't justify the auction because the court hasn't considered the issue. The NBTC should be more careful in designing any future bids," he said.
He also urged the National Anti-Corruption Commission to speed up its probe into the bidding to prevent and contain further damage.
Mr Somkiat said the Administrative Court should also clarify how the public can examine and keep the NBTC in check. "Earlier it recommended that the case should be referred to the Ombudsman and now it says the agency has no authority to act," he said.
NBTC secretary-general Takorn Tantasit said its telecom committee will meet on Friday to discuss how to proceed.
The 3G licences are expected to be issued on Dec 20, he said, adding that the policy of slashing service charges by 15-20% will be maintained.
He insisted the 3G licensees must comply with the price ceiling condition.
True's vice-chairman Athueck Asvanont said he does not think the price cap for 3G services must be packaged as a condition for the licensing.
Darmp Sukontasap, chief of corporate affairs for DTAC, said his company needs to see the NBTC's terms for infrastructure sharing before submitting a proposal on its real cost and pricing package.
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Writer: Patsara Jikkham & Komsan Tortermvasana