Thailand’s 3G Auction Saga: The Hits Just Keep on Coming

The Nation reports that the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has responded to Communications Authority of Thailand (CAT) “you have no authority to auction 3G spectrum” lawsuit with a defiant “yes we do!

You might recall that CAT last week filed an injunction with the Supreme Administrative Court to prevent the NTC from auctioning 3G spectrum to incumbent mobile operators AIS, DTAC and True Move. The Court granted that injunction on the basis of CAT’s claim that the 2007 constitution granted authority to allocate spectrum to a new, yet-to-be-created regulator called the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC).

In the article NTC deputy secretary Prasert Apipunya said the NTC has been granting spectrum licenses legitimately under the 2007 constitution. Licensees include CAT, the Telecommunications Organization of Thailand (TOT), Aeronautical Radio of Thailand, and many other agencies and ministries of the State.

I’m sure you’re asking yourself what is going on? Folks, let’s put this into context. A concession for nationwide 3G service is a license to print money, and a mobile phone is just a portable slot machine. The players in the seamy saga are pushing and shoving to make room at the trough so they can gorge themselves yet again at the expense of the Thai People. The normal back-room deals that buy off everyone with any veto power have apparently not pleased everyone or has left the public insufficiently fleeced. For these 3G networks to ever be built the profits must be divyed up now before it ever has been made.

Expect lots more of this to-ing and fro-ing before the spectrum is awarded.  The incumbent mobile operators will start cutting deals with CAT and TOT to allow them participate in 3G service. The remit of TOT and CAT to offer 3G service might also be extended or expanded by the government. If there is to be any good news it could be that the mobile operators will be given freedom to offer more services or allowed to partner with foreign companies in the construction and operation of these networks as a way to recoup some of the money that will now go to buy off the fat cats. Back to Business As Usual in the Land of Smiles.