Unsold Thai satellite orbit rights at risk of cancellation

Unsold Thai satellite orbit rights at risk of cancellation

Satellite dishes at Thaicom's headquarters in Pathum Thani. (File photo)
Satellite dishes at Thaicom's headquarters in Pathum Thani. (File photo)

Thailand's right to use the satellite orbit at 50.5° East is at risk of being cancelled after the right expires in 2025, as it has long been vacant.

Some industry onlookers expect the planned auctions of two unsold orbit slots at 50.5° and 142° E by the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) are likely to fail as the number of prospective bidders will be lower than the minimum required in the draft conditions to award the rights to such slots.

According to an NBTC source who requested anonymity, Thailand's right to use the 50.5° E orbit slot will end next year after a certain extension period offered by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

The right to use the 142° E slot expires in three years.

The NBTC is preparing to award both of the orbital slots this June, as they remain unsold from the previous auction in January 2023.

The regulator held the country's first auction to use the satellite orbit slots last year, offering five packages: 50.5° and 51° E; 78.5° E; 119.5° E and 120° E; 126° E; and 142° E.

Space Tech Innovation, an affiliate of SET-listed Thaicom, won the second package for 380 million baht and the third for 417 million. State telecom enterprise National Telecom (NT) won the fourth package for 9.07 million baht. The first and fifth packages were unsold.

The NBTC board and management are drafting a new plan to award the unsold slots, aiming to prevent the slots being cancelled by the ITU.

The NBTC source said the draft provides other methods than an auction of awarding the slots, such as a beauty contest, a revenue-sharing basis and direct awarding of the slots.

A public hearing will be proposed for the draft, to be announced in the Royal Gazette in the near future, said the source.

The beauty contest method focuses mainly on the readiness and qualifications of prospective bidders based on their proposals and proposed benefits to the state. Bidders may be required to pay only the reserve price as a minimum payment to the state.

The revenue-sharing basis determines the exact rate rights holders would have to pay to the state.

The direct awarding method determines specific conditions for awarding the right to specific companies.

The source said the NBTC board is most likely to choose the auction method for the slot rights, requiring a low reserve price for winning bidders.

An alternative involves asking winning bidders to enter into revenue sharing with the state, said the source.

In the draft, the bidding must have at least two participants, or else the auction must be scrapped.

"It is likely the number of auction participants will be lower than the conditions require," the source said.

NT UNLIKELY TO JOIN

Prasert Jantararuangthong, the digital economy and society minister, said the ministry will discuss with related agencies how to distribute rights to use the two unsold orbits.

Mr Prasert said the coverage positions of the two orbits are distant, in the Caribbean Sea and the Middle East, creating challenges for the commercial market.

However, the NBTC holds the authority and accountability for awarding the rights, he said.

NT is unlikely to participate in bidding for the two slots as it is operating under a turnaround plan and has yet to use the 126° E orbit slot it won at the previous auction, said Mr Prasert.

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