Telecom bailouts unfair, experts say

Telecom bailouts unfair, experts say

Move locks money set for public benefit

Executives of Advanced Wireless Network Co make a payment for a 900MHz licence fee to the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission in 2016. (Bangkok post file photo)
Executives of Advanced Wireless Network Co make a payment for a 900MHz licence fee to the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission in 2016. (Bangkok post file photo)

Academics and consumer advocates have slammed the regime's decision to invoke Section 44 to ease the financial burden on three telecom operators and digital TV broadcasters, saying the move offers favourable treatment to private firms at the expense of public benefit.

Somkiat Tangkitvanich, president of the Thailand Development Research Institute, estimated that helping the digital TV operators will cost 32 billion baht in money that could otherwise remain in the state's coffers, while the package of measures to help the three mobile phone operators will cost another 20 billion baht.

"This would mean more than 50 billion baht that is supposed to benefit the public will be in the hands of private companies, thus putting taxpayers at a disadvantage," Mr Somkiat said at a seminar held by Thammasat University on Wednesday.

The order issued by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) -- enabled by the use of Section 44 -- also tied the relief measures offered to 4G licensees to those of digital TV licensees, as part of the broadcasters' 700MHz spectrum will be reallocated to support the new 5G service.

Telecom operators have been given 30 days to decide if they want to extend their 4G-spectrum repayments obligations -- worth over 100 billion baht -- to 10 instalments over 10 years.

In return, they are required to purchase the 700MHz spectrum for the 5G service, with at least two operators likely to pay about 25 billion baht each.

As such, the NBTC will have fresh funds to cover the loss of revenue from digital TV licensees.

Mr Somkiat said that the auction of the 5G bands and its plan to compensate digital TV operators should not be linked, as they are two separate issues.

"I think there is an effort here to try and mix things up, so big companies that have a close relationship with the government can benefit from this," he said.

Kannikar Kijtiwatchakul, of the Foundation for Consumers, said there will be no benefit for consumers because only big businesses will gain from the relief measures.

"Consumers gain nothing. Now, there are no children's channels, 50% of news channels have chosen to return their licences, and we still have to pay our phone bills at the same prices," she said.

Mr Somkiat also said Thailand does not need to hold a 5G auction this year, because the benefits of using 5G networks in the market is still "unclear".

"If the uncertainties are not cleared up, it would create risks which will affect the bidding process," he said.

Pravit Leesatapornwongsa, a National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) commissioner, concurred with Mr Somkiat and said that the NBTC was "too hasty" in calling the bid.

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