Thai 3G auctions postponed again; regulator to be dissolved

Thailand’s beleaguered 3G auctions have now stalled indefinitely, following a decision by the country’s Supreme Administrative Court to uphold a complaint made by the state-owned operator CAT Telecom, which alleged that the Thai regulator, the National Telecommunications Commission, was not authorised to oversee the auctions.

CAT Telecom’s objection has been viewed by observers as an attempt to sabotage the auctions, which the operator claims will create ‘unfair’ competition, alleging that the auction regulations favour third parties.

Since the objection has been sustained, the entire auction process will now be scrapped, with no indication of when a new process could begin. The Thai constitution calls for the creation of a new independent watchdog to replace the NTC; however, a draft bill to create the proposed new National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission has yet to be approved by the Thai parliament.

Thailand’s 3G auctions have been beset with difficulties, and the country is now languishing behind much of its Southeast Asian peers in terms of 3G rollouts. CAT Telecom’s objection has once again stymied the process, which indicates that the state-owned operator wishes to avoid an influx of international operators, such as SingTel and Telenor, into the Thai market. The auctions have long been viewed as a means of injecting new life into the country’s telecoms sector by increasing competition.

The 3G process must now be begun afresh, following the creation of a new regulator. Observers have suggested that once this process has commenced, it could take two years before Thailand is ready to auction 3G licences again.

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