Ouster of DES minister likely to complicate NT operations

Ouster of DES minister likely to complicate NT operations

Mr Buddhipongse wanted NT to support the Thailand 4.0 scheme, provide telecom infrastructure for others with a neutral stance, and spin off its retail business for effective operation.
Mr Buddhipongse wanted NT to support the Thailand 4.0 scheme, provide telecom infrastructure for others with a neutral stance, and spin off its retail business for effective operation.

The dismissal of Digital Economy and Society (DES) Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta based on a court ruling Wednesday is expected to affect the structuring of the state enterprise National Telecom (NT) board and the company's 5G business plan, said a source at the ministry who requested anonymity.

The Criminal Court sentenced him to seven years in jail for charges in connection with his role in the defunct People's Democratic Reform Committee's (PDRC) demonstration against the Yingluck Shinawatra government from 2013-2014. He was dismissed from the post as a result.

NT, a merged unit of CAT Telecom and TOT, has five board members and Mr Buddhipongse has said another six members could be added to streamline the company's operations through five core businesses.

He directed CAT Telecom to bid for a 700-megahertz spectrum licence in the 5G spectrum auction last February.

CAT secured 20MHz of bandwidth on the spectrum at a cost of 34.3 billion baht.

The source said the ouster of Mr Buddhipongse could have a big impact on several operations, especially at NT, which was officially launched in January.

Attempts had been made to merge CAT Telecom and TOT for decades, but only succeeded under Mr Buddhipongse's leadership.

He wanted NT to support the digital Thailand 4.0 scheme, provide telecom infrastructure for others with a neutral stance, and spin off its retail business for effective operation.

The ousted minister also wanted to improve NT's mobile services. CAT's mobile service has 2.5 million subscribers, while TOT mobile has 180,000 subscribers.

Mr Buddhipongse had said the NT mobile brand would be launched in March and the enterprise is in talks for partnership deals with Advanced Info Service (AIS) and True Move H Universal Communication (TUC), the top two carriers, allowing NT to provide 5G service on the carriers' 2600MHz spectrum. He predicted those talks would conclude in April.

Pisut Ngamvijitvong, senior director of analysis at Kasikorn Securities, said by the time a new minister is appointed, the process of integration between TOT and CAT, especially the board structuring and the appointment of the permanent chief executive, would be adversely affected.

This could be viewed as a positive for other players in the industry until a new minister is appointed, he said.

Mr Buddhipongse told the Bangkok Post earlier the DES and Finance ministries plan to add six members to the existing five people on the NT board, particularly those with specific skills.

These six new board members are expected to create a balance of power with those allied with the DES Ministry, said the source at the ministry.

NT board chairman ML Chayotid Kridakon was selected by key figures in the government, not by Mr Buddhipongse, the source said.

"The ouster of Mr Buddhipongse means this new planned balance of power would be derailed," the source said.

This dismissal also hinders a previous plan to appoint the NT chief executive in September.

ML Chayotid has assigned the company's management to set up a working panel to explore business opportunities for 5G service, in addition to deals the company is pursuing with other firms.

The source said NT's 5G investment and strategy now appear uncertain following the ouster of Mr Buddhipongse. The board is concerned about the 5G investment cost without a clear plan on how the company would create a sustainable income from the business, said the source.


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