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ASEAN ANALYSIS  17 September 2010

3G saga drones on in Thailand

By David Swartzentruber
AseanAffairs   17 September 2010

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The most interesting story in today’s news in the Asean community is the decision of Thailand’s Administrative Court to strike down the auction for the 3G spectrum that was slated to begin next Monday.

To be held under the auspices of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), the court held that the law required the National Telecommunications Board (NTB) to conduct the auction rather than the NTC. The problem is that the National Telecommunications Board has not yet been formed and probably won’t be until early in 2011. This probably puts off 3G for Thailand until mid-2011 at the earliest.

Thailand trails its neighbors such as Cambodia and Vietnam in the adoption of the 3G spectrum. These are countries that are supposedly less developed than Thailand.

More importantly, the whole affair points to how inefficient the whole process has been. Observers said that the NTC should have acted more quickly, rather than wait until the NTB’s kickoff was close at hand.

The law suit against the auction was placed by CAT Telecom, formerly a government organization, that stands to lose revenue when the 3G spectrum actually goes forward in Thailand. TOT Plc, another former government organization, has filed a lawsuit similar to the successful suit filed by CAT.

What makes the situation even more ludicrous is last week’s promotional event at which the commission ballyhooed to consumers all the great benefits of the 3G spectrum.

Following the block on the auction, the stock of the three companies that were to bid, AIS, DTAC and True took hits and the Stock exchange of Thailand finished down.13 percent.

In a last-ditch effort the NTC is appealing the decision on the basis that it is acting in the nation’s interests rather than in its own self interest. From the wording of the court decision it is unlikely that the NTC’s appeal will succeed.

The latest report is that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has aid his government will expedite the passage of the National Telecommunications Board law, now in the parliament, “to bring 3G to Thailand.”

The whole episode points out the inefficiencies of Thai government and bureaucracy and how that impedes the progress of Thailand.

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