3G farce risks Thailand's reputation on world stage

More than just consumer convenience rides on the introduction of the new technology

As Thai politics sits in a stalemate with no reconciliation in sight, 3G deployment could be a welcome New Year gift for the Thai people - at least Thai society could see something new, not just unending political conflict, noted Suthat Sretboonsang, a former Thailand Trade Representative writing for Post Today.

The longer 3G services are delayed, the less chance there will be of making Thailand a true regional hub.

Mr Suthat said the recent 3G auction should not be blocked or delayed any further because mobile telecom communications have progressed rapidly and 3G is no longer new. It is possible a 4G auction could be held next year.

If 3G deployment faces interruption again, the country's image will be greatly damaged and Thailand will be categorised as backwards concerning mobile technology when compared with neighbouring countries especially with the Asean Economic Community beckoning in 2015. It is regrettable that the country is held back due to internal conflicts.

What we could do is to push 3G forward so that Thailand becomes a regional hub not only in terms of geographical location but with easy links to other countries via mobile technology. The longer that 3G is delayed, the less chance that there is of making Thailand a true regional hub.

It is true the 3G auction was full of defects. However, Mr Suthat asked if it is also true that more harm will be done if 3G is blocked or delayed again. How much damage will there be to the country's economy then?

Mr Suthat called on the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) to be steadfast and be ready to answer all questions concerning the 3G auction.

He said critics were not justified in arguing that the 3G auction must earn as much revenue as possible because if the three bid winners - AIS, Dtac and True - had to pay much more, it would mean their costs for rolling out 3G would be higher, and that would certainly be passed on to consumers.

This did not mean the NBTC sided with the mobile network operators. It must simply have realised that a higher reserve bid price would mean consumers bearing the cost.

The NBTC must ensure it can compel the winners to compete over prices so that the country ultimately benefits.

Of course, the bid winners must be able to make a reasonable profit as well. The NBTC must make sure there is no collusion to take advantage of consumers.

The NBTC must fight all lawsuits successfully to make sure 3G is deployed to benefit the country and consumers.

It is unreasonable to lodge a lawsuit to compel the private mobile operators to pay more to the state because it will delay 3G and cause another hiccup for the telecom industry.

Mr Suthat said 3G will stimulate investment and that will boost GDP growth. If Thailand stumbles with 3G again, it will lose opportunities.

A lesson is Suvarnabhumi airport. Conceived more than 50 years ago, it took nearly 40 years to begin construction. Singapore's Changi airport was conceived much later but was finished within two years and Singapore has been the regional aviation hub for more than 20 years even though Thailand is geographically better located.

If we look at global investments pouring into Asia, Thailand is one of the most strategically placed countries for regional investment. It is essential the country has 3G to speed up communication. The business sector cannot wait forever. If politics is stabilised and 3G is deployed next year as planned, the country will benefit in the long run.

However, if it is still mired in conflict and 3G is indefinitely delayed Thailand will miss the boat and global investments will go elsewhere. Thailand will miss out on becoming the golden land of Southeast Asia.

Imagine if Thailand does not have 3G and politics is still mired in conflict. What can we offer overseas investors? If we don't do anything positive, future generations will condemn us for pulling the country down and making them suffer unnecessarily.

Don't think of the benefits for mobile operators. Think about how to control the 3G licence winners so that they offer quality services at a reasonable charge. We should not go back to square one and start the 3G auction again because it will drag Thailand backwards, doing irreparable harm.

Don't nitpick about small imperfections in the auction. We should move forward as the benefits will be much greater for the country. Another hiccup and Thailand will be shunned by international investors. We cannot live alone, being interdependent in the global arena.

National frequencies are a resource which must be deployed for the benefit of all.

Energy use skyrockets

The Energy Ministry's report that fuel imports would hit a historic high this year was not unexpected, noted Nha-kran Laohavilai, Post Today editor.

For the first nine months, the country imported 9.36 million barrels of crude worth 905 billion baht, a rise of 16.1% from the same period last year.

The Energy Ministry forecast that liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) imports by the end of this year should reach 1.7 million tonnes, worth about 50 billion baht, another historic high.

Nha-kran expects to see the same trend next year with rising imports of crude and LPG, all due to the unjustifiable energy subsidy. He did not think much of the government's policy to subsidise diesel by lowering the excise tax by 5 baht per litre, which causes the state to forego billions of baht in excise tax revenue.

The subsidy also benefits car owners who have luxury diesel saloons.

Nha-kran criticised the government for prolonging the free float of LPG prices for motor vehicles, resulting in more and more cars being converted to LPG. He also slammed the government's first-car policy which has unleashed about 500,000 new vehicles onto the roads.

A wise government would try every means to lower energy consumption by encouraging people to use public transport, but the Pheu Thai government has done the opposite by encouraging people to buy more cars through its first car policy without caring for fuel wastage in traffic jams in major cities, especially Bangkok.

A wise government would campaign to reduce energy consumption as it is necessary at the national and global level due to limited resources and the greenhouse effect.

A wise government must promote the right attitude among the people.

If Thailand continues to consume energy excessively the country will face adverse consequences with its trade deficit as well as pollution due to traffic gridlock.

A badly managed energy policy as well as other populist, wasteful policies are creating problems that are creeping nearer and nearer every day to crisis proportions, Nha-kran said.