After Bill Gates post, state moves on cable eyesore

After Bill Gates post, state moves on cable eyesore

Overhead lines to be moved below ground

Tangles of power, telecom and other types of cable are a familiar sight in Bangkok and major cities nationwide. The government has vowed to put 127 kilometres of lines underground in three key provinces within five years. (Photo by Thanawat Phetlolian)
Tangles of power, telecom and other types of cable are a familiar sight in Bangkok and major cities nationwide. The government has vowed to put 127 kilometres of lines underground in three key provinces within five years. (Photo by Thanawat Phetlolian)

After a decade of delay, the authorities are finally embarking on a 51.7-billion-baht programme to put 127 kilometres of overhead power lines and cables underground.

The first phase of the plan, grouping all existing overhead power, telecommunications and broadcasting cables into a single platform below ground at 39 roads in Bangkok, Samut Prakan and Nonthaburi, is scheduled to be completed in 2020 -- five years ahead of the original schedule.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has urged all related state agencies to speed up the first phase in order to serve the digital economy initiative.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates recently posted a picture on social media of the clutter of overhead power cables in Thailand.

Grisada Boonrach, chairman of the board of directors at the Metropolitan Electricity Authority (MEA), said his agency would take charge of replacing all existing overhead power lines with underground lines, requiring an investment of 48.7 billion baht.

TOT Plc, meanwhile, will take responsibility for constructing an underground system worth 3 billion baht, and grouping all existing telecom and broadcasting cables into a single platform.

The MEA on Wednesday signed a memorandum of understanding for the development of the project with TOT, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) and the Royal Thai Police.

Korkij Darnchaivichit, NBTC deputy secretary-general, said the regulator will order all existing telecom and broadcasting licensees to remove their cables underground, as well as laying an underground system together with the electricity authorities' power lines.

Mr Korkij said the NBTC will have to establish rental fees for TOT in order to charge telecom and broadcasting companies for the use of the new underground system.

TOT president Monchai Noosong said TOT expected the underground platform to generate revenue of at least 1 billion baht per year for the state telecom enterprise after the construction is completed.

Mr Korkij added that the underground project was needed in order to prevent the possible collapse of concrete power poles as they carry an excessive load of utility lines.

Most telecoms and broadcasters rented cement poles from the MEA and the Provincial Electricity Authority (PEA) to lay their telecommunications wires, cables and optical fibre lines together with the electricity authorities' power lines.

Under Section 39 of the existing Frequency Allocation Act, telecom licensees have the right to negotiate with any companies to lay their network lines.

But the state electricity enterprises have denied requests from telecoms wanting to rent their poles to lay lines for years, as the state agencies say their poles can no longer support the weight of new lines.

Indeed, Mr Grisada said the MEA had already put its power lines underground in some business areas of Bangkok over the past few years.

But the development of the project has been very limited due to the lack of budget and there was no discussion of this issue with other parties, including cable-TV and service providers.

However, he said this collaboration with other state agencies will accomplish the project's goal of developing Bangkok as an Asean metropolis. It would beautify the city and ease excess loading of overhead utility wires.

Mr Grisada said the MEA will take responsibility for the construction of an electrical power distribution system to ensure sufficient electricity supply and a safe and reliable electricity network to the public.

The BMA, meanwhile, will manage and address all problems that may affect people during the underground construction. The Royal Thai Police will help manage and facilitate traffic.

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