Thai regulator NBTC’s 2015 proposal to relax the payback terms for the 4G licences issued to Thailand’s two largest operators - AIS and True Move – is being abandoned after it drew strong criticism.
The proposal submitted by the regulator recommended allowing the Thai prime minister to use Article 44 – an executive order – to grant the operators an additional five years to pay for their 900MHz spectrum licences. Both operators owe the government around THB60 billion ($1.9 billion), with the current deadline for payment falling in 2019.
However, the recommendation was met with outcry from third-placed dtac, which demanded to have its payment terms relaxed for an upcoming spectrum auction. Additionally, Thailand Development Research Institute chairman Somkiat Tangkitvanich commented on the “strange logic” of the decision given that neither AIS nor True Move is in any ostensible financial trouble.
Nonetheless, in September 2017, both operators petitioned the National Council for Peace and Order [NCPO] to relax the terms for paying their licence fees. Vichaow Rakphongphairoj, the True group’s co-president, noted that the winning prices for 900MHz had been six times higher than the reserve prices. This has been a continuing issue in Thailand, with the country’s 2015 auctions seeing the highest winning prices in Asia, and the second highest globally after the US.
In November 2017, the NBTC drew criticism from operators and analysts for setting reserve prices at a similar level to those from 2015, with a 10MHz block of 850MHz spectrum set at THB37.98 billion, and a 30MHz block in the 1.8GHz band costing THB37.45 billion – notably higher than typical international levels.
NBTC secretary-general Takorn Tantasith said: “The state must decide if the measure is in the public’s interest. The NCPO and the government must decide if they agree with the arguments against the planned assistance.”