Consumer body urges NBTC to reject True-DTAC merger

Consumer body urges NBTC to reject True-DTAC merger

The Thailand Consumers Council is urging the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) to strictly govern the planned merger of True Corporation and Total Access Communication (DTAC) according to the law, saying the regulator must not let capitalists take advantage of the public and the market.

The council and 16 civic organisations released a joint statement calling on people to migrate from the two carriers to other operators to show their disapproval of the planned merger.

The council also organised a seminar on Wednesday entitled "NBTC with the rule of law, not rule for capital" to discuss the regulator's role in dealing with the DTAC-True merger deal.

Saree Aongsomwang, secretary-general of the council, said it disagrees with the merger on two facets.

First, the deal could run afoul of four pieces of legislation: the NBTC Act, the constitution, a consumer protection law, and the Trade Competition Act.

Second, the deal is likely to be a financial burden for consumers, with the current average revenue per user (ARPU) expected to rise by 12% to 246 baht, from the current 220 baht, based on some 80 million subscriptions.

In the worst-case scenario the ARPU may surge to 537 baht, a jump of 244%, if there is no competition in the market following the merger.

"Mobile users may have to pay an additional amount for mobile services, ranging from 1.7 billion baht to 13.6 billion baht, depending on the level of monopoly after the deal," said Ms Saree.

The council requests the NBTC reject the deal at its meeting on Oct 12 as the merger could push the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index, a measure used to gauge market concentration, to the "very dangerous" level, she said.

"The NBTC must not approve the deal as it will reduce customers' choices for necessary services," Ms Saree said.

She did not go into details on the council's reaction if the NBTC board approves the deal.

Some commissioners may not want to have their opinions recorded in the meeting's minutes to avoid being targeted by the National Anti-Corruption Commission later, said Ms Saree.

Supinya Klangnarong, a former NBTC commissioner and a member of the council's subcommittee on telecom and ICT, said the NBTC is an independent agency that has to perform duties for optimum public benefits, based on the constitution's stipulations.

The NBTC's master plan also states that the regulator must prevent monopolies and promote market competition.

"Regardless of any decisions on the deal, the NBTC must clearly explain the reasons to the public," she said.

Ms Supinya said the National Telecommunications Commission's (NTC) 2006 notification on measures for the prevention of monopoly or unfair competition in the telecom business is still valid. The NTC was Thailand's telecom regulatory body prior to the establishment of the NBTC.

The regulator can prohibit or impose specific measures on mergers that could cause monopoly or restrict competition, she said.

"The spectrum auctions also entailed a contractual obligation with the state that the licensees need to operate services continuously until the concession expires -- any changes could affect spectrum allocation too," said Ms Supinya.

Prinya Thaewanarumitkul, a law lecturer at Thammasat University, said the NBTC has the authority to do more than merely be informed about the merger plan.

"The NBTC board is obviously obligated to work for the people's optimal benefit, in line with the constitution," he said.

The commission must carefully apply its authority and accountability in considering the deal, said Mr Prinya.

"I wonder why the board is afraid to consider whether to approve the deal. It seems the board will only consider remedial measures right away," he said.

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