State hand in Thaicom's next satellite
Government wants to steer benefits to public
For the first time, the government will take partial control of the management and operation of a new satellite of Thaicom Plc in an effort to channel the benefits of the space economy to the general public.
The government-operated satellite will be dubbed the "national satellite" instead of Thaicom 9, the original name intended by the country's sole satellite service provider.
The rest of Thaicom's satellites will eventually fall under the new satellite business operative framework.
"State telecom enterprise CAT Telecom will probably be assigned to partly operate and manage the state satellite," Deputy Prime Minister Prajin Juntong told the Bangkok Post.
The new state satellite, in orbital slot 119.5 East, is scheduled to be launched by Thaicom in 2019.
ACM Prajin said the move is in line with the new satellite business operative framework, which the government designed to channel benefits of the space economy to the people.
According to a resolution of the national space policy committee led by ACM Prajin in the last two weeks, CAT will partially invest in or operate the new satellite.
ACM Prajin said CAT will submit details of alternative management frameworks under consideration to the committee by the end of this month. The enterprise will also weigh in on the project's investment budget, he said.
According to a 2016 cabinet resolution, Thaicom 7 and 8 must operate under the old concession system instead of a licensing regime. Meanwhile, satellites after 2016 will come under the new business structure.
Thaicom satellites are currently managed under a licensing regime by their namesake company. Thaicom is a subsidiary of InTouch Holdings Plc, the biggest telecom conglomerate in the country and the owner of AIS, the country's largest mobile operator.
Thaicom, formerly known as Shin Satellite Co, was originally founded by ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Today, Thaicom operates three satellites under a concession regime: Thaicom 4 (iPSTAR), a broadband satellite; and Thaicom 5 and 6, both broadcasting satellites.
Thaicom 4 is in orbital slot 119.5 East and Thaicom 5 is at 78.5 East. The concessions of Thaicom 4 and 5 under the Digital Economy and Society (DE) Ministry will expire in 2021.
Thaicom had sought an agreement to hire an international satellite builder to construct the new Thaicom 9 satellite for launch by 2019 to replace Thaicom 4. The plan also called for a Thaicom 10 to replace Thaicom 5.
But Thaicom suspended its plan last year amid news that the government was working on improving the operating structure of the satellite business. Thaicom and representatives of the government have negotiated many times but have yet to settle on a new business structure.
A high-ranking source at CAT who asked not to be named said there are three alternatives for the new satellite: CAT leads the operation with the private sector joining in the investment; shareholding under terms of the Public-Private Joint Venture Act; or a private company (Thaicom) leads the operation and CAT buys 30% of transponder capacity to operate for the public's benefit.
Under the option that CAT leads the operation, CAT has to start a process with the DE Ministry to reserve a satellite orbital slot through the International Telecommunication Union. The ITU is responsible for arranging orbital slots in space for satellites.
"However, CAT will be involve in every alternative, as it is the intention of the government," the source said.
CAT has three satellite ground stations in Nonthaburi, Chon Buri and Udon Thani.
Vunnaporn Devahastin, secretary-general of the Office of the National Digital Economy and Society Commission, acknowledged that the new satellite at 119.5 East will be called the national satellite instead of Thaicom 9.
In related news, the government is negotiating with Thaicom on a proper method of compensation, in compliance with the resolution of the cabinet in 2016 that Thaicom 7 and 8 are required to turn to the old concession system instead of a licensing regime.
In the government's view, Thaicom must pay an annual concession fee of 20.5% for Thaicom 7 and 8, a sharp increase from the present 5.75% fee under the licence system.
Thaicom 7 and 8 operate under the single licence of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, which requires a 5.75% license fee payment to the NBTC.