Regulator wary of True-CAT backlash

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) will be at extreme risk of breaching criminal law if it decides in favour of True Corporation on the contentious third-generation (3G) network contracts between the private firm and CAT Telecom.

Commissioner Prawit Leesathapornwongsa warned the watchdog's telecom committee to brace for legal action from consumer protection groups if a final decision from the committee tomorrow suggests the True-CAT contracts are in compliance with the law.

The consumer groups will take the case to the Senate committee before it passes to the National Anti-Corruption Commission, he said.

The NBTC's telecom committee will decide tomorrow whether one of the six contracts involving the network rental service of BFKT (Thailand) violates Sections 7 and 67 of the Telecommunications Business Act.

Section 7 says anyone who intends to run a telecom business must obtain a licence from the NBTC, while Section 67 says operators of a telecom business without a licence will face a penalty.

''After thoroughly studying the BFKT case, I can say this contract is in violation of the telecom law,'' said Mr Prawit.

He wants the telecom committee to pass the case to the NBTC to be filed with the police. True would then defend itself under a legal process.

''The telecom committee is not the final decision-maker. It's the court's duty to rule on the case,'' said Mr Prawit.

He said the True-CAT contracts, signed in January 2011, could damage the local telecom industry in the long run.

He pointed out mobile leader Advanced Info Service could not make a similar pact with concession owner TOT for right to run mobile services for 14 years.

Mr Prawit said he supported the first conclusion of an NBTC fact-finding panel last September suggesting BFKT was in violation of both sections of the telecom law. The panel recommended a criminal complaint against BFKT and CAT for illegally offering 3G service.

But the telecom committee ordered the panel to revise its conclusions and asked it to investigate whether BFKT had the intention to operate 3G mobile service with a proper licence.

''The move was clearly meant to give True a good chance to escape penalty,'' said Mr Prawit.

The panel must submit its conclusions to the telecom committee by tomorrow.

Mr Prawit added when the NBTC filed a criminal complaint last year against 28 firms that imported mobiles with fake lab-test certifications, there was no probe on whether it was intentional.

About the author

Writer: Komsan Tortermvasana
Position: Senior Business Reporter