ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Mobile operators talk revenue sharing shift
Mobile phone operators have mixed reactions to the Finance Ministry's plan to convert their revenue-sharing concession payments to licensing fees.
At a public hearing held yesterday by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) on 3G wireless broadband auctions, market leader Advanced Info Service opposed the plan, but True supported it, as reported by the Bangkok Post.
Telecom academic Anuparp Thiralarp said he doubted a 3G auction - already years behind schedule - would take place as scheduled for September. he cited questions about the authority of the NTC in the absence of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), and the fact that three NTC commissioners will finish their six-year terms in September.
"Is this a plot to shift focus from the Thaicom controversy?" he asked, referring to recent ideas floated by the government to buy the satellite operator.
The forum was held as Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij is expected to submit a concession conversion plan to the cabinet. Details are being worked out by the State Enterprise Policy Office (SEPO). It reasoned the concessions should be based on fair competition and the state would not lose any benefits.
It also said that if an existing operator wins a 3G licence, it might allow customers on its 2G network to move to 3G without charging an additional fee as an incentive to migrate, meaning the government would lose the 6.5% of 3G revenue as a licensing fee.
"Therefore conversion will [clear the uncertainty] and enable operators in 3G to compete on a level playing field," said SEPO director Supha Piyajitti.
Mr Korn told the NTC last week that the Finance Ministry might seek a way to cut telecom concession fees to 12.5% from the current average of 25% as one step in converting concessions to 15-year licences. He also asked the regulator to raise the overall 3G licence fee from the current 6% of revenue to 12.5% and suggested the NTC and the government move in tandem on 3G licensing and concession conversion to achieve their goals by the September auction.
True Corporation vice-chairman Athueck Asvanont was keen on the plan.
He said that even if revenue sharing were reduced and concessions extended, the government would still gain the same benefit.
True Move chief executive Suphachai Chearavanont also supported the plan.
He urged the government to end the revenue-sharing concession system and convert to licensing to encourage free and fair competition for all.
He repeated his opposition to the NTC's 3.9G auction plan, saying the planned 10-billion-baht bidding price for the more advanced technology seemed to favour big operators and foreign investors over small companies.
True - controlled by the CP Group, one of Thailand's biggest and richest conglomerates - has complained repeatedly that it is at a disadvantage against rivals AIS and DTAC, who have Singaporean and Norwegian shareholders, respectively.
"The NTC was not set up to make money for the government. Instead, its aim is enhancing the telecom industry's development and reinforcing a regulatory framework," he said.