Spectrum payment S44 order under fire

Spectrum payment S44 order under fire

Experts have slammed the regime's move to invoke Section 44 to extend the payments for the 900-megahertz spectrum licences awarded to three telecom operators, saying it is currying favour with private firms at the expense of the public benefit.

Advanced Info Service (AIS), Total Access Communication (DTAC) and True Move are the operators which obtained the 900MHz licences.

According to the Section 44-based order published in the Royal Gazette on Thursday, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) will allow operators granted the 900MHz licences to make instalment payments for the licence fees over 10 years -- the same amount each year. This would start from the year when the operators first won the licences.

Under the "relief" measure, licensees will start paying from next year. The unpaid amounts from previous dues must also be handed in together next year.

Operators taking part in the relief programme would be entitled to participate in the bidding for the 700MHz spectrum, which is planned for 5G technology. If the operators decide against bidding, they would in breach of the relief deal and be forced to pay as per the original agreement.

AIS and True Move Universal Communication were required to make the last payment for their 900MHz licences in 2020, a sum of around 60 billion baht, to the NBTC.

Meanwhile, DTAC Trinet must make the last payment for its 900MHz licence in 2021, a sum of 30 billion baht.

Somkiat Tangkitvanich, president of the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), said the relief plan immediately boosted the stock prices of the three operators.

He said the rising share prices reflect shareholders' belief that the companies will benefit from the plan. "This contrasts with attempts by state officials who have said the measure is not aimed at accommodating businesses," said Mr Somkiat.

"Those who will be at a disadvantage under this measure are taxpayers," said Mr Somkiat.

"The extension of the payment terms for the three operators would mean 24 billion baht supposed to benefit the public would be in the hands of telecom operators. Thailand is still not ready and does not need to hold a 5G spectrum auction this year," Mr Somkiat said.

Supinya Klangnarong, a former member of NBTC, also disagreed with the Section 44 order, saying it is a move to offer favourable treatment to private firms.

It is inappropriate to invoke Section 44 after the election, she said, adding that it is duty of the NBTC to make such an announcement.

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