At last week’s AIS Vision 2017, the biggest coup for the operator was announcing that it had convinced HBO and Fox to jump ship from rival and long-time incumbent TrueVisions – the cable TV sister company to TrueMove – and join its own pay-TV bouquet. The deal, particularly in regards to HBO, has led to many consumer complaints and has become an ongoing saga in the broadcasting sector, not least because many customers are locked into triple/quad play packages that are suddenly lacking in television content. The sad thing is that while AIS has hyped up the availability of HBO Go video-on-demand as part of its HBO deal, the regulator just had to step in and throw a spanner in the works.
National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commissioner Supinya Klangnarong said in a series of tweets that AIS could not offer VOD for HBO and its new partners without first obtaining a broadcasting license. Never mind the fact that everyone else is offering VOD via OTT – because they have one noose around AIS’ neck already, the regulator thinks they can impose even more restrictions on them. Thankfully nobody seems to be paying attention to Supinya this time round.
It is a case of rule by law as opposed to rule of law. Just because AIS has presence and the audacity to go up against the incumbent, the regulator feels that it has to do something so it can be perceived as being in charge.
It might well be the case that AIS needs a broadcasting license to offer video on demand over 4G. But logically, that means all other telcos would also need a broadcasting license to allow OTT players to use their spectrum. Or should the OTT players be the ones required to get a license? Or does only AIS need a license because it is AIS, and thus is big enough and has the cash to cough up for one?
Meanwhile, regarding the overall AIS Vision 2017 event, telco industry analyst Allan Rasmussen from Yozzo took great exception to the glitz and glamour of the AIS annual lovefest, and pointed out so many flaws and omissions in the vision presented at AIS Vision.
For example, why is AIS happy to proclaim that it’s helping create a win-win ecosystem of non-telecoms partners but is not allowing any MNVOs onto its own network? The 3G and 4G auction wins stipulate 10% capacity must be reserved for MVNOs but that has simply not happened, and the NBTC seems in no hurry to enforce those parts of the auction rules.
Donald Trump is the 45th president of the United States – that is just two more presidents than Thailand has MVNO licenses. Yet the market share of MVNOs is negligible, and the regulator seems happier to be a license boutique rather than actually creating a vibrant, competitive and healthy industry.
The major operators (and AIS is not alone in this sin) are taking a one-size fits all approach to the market and not allowing the development of smaller MVNO players trying out new, niche services and technologies.
AIS applauded TOT for much success in its partnership, and going forward the two are partnering on TOT’s 2100-MHz spectrum, but in Yozzo’s view, it’s more of a lock-out. By partnering with TOT as an MVNO and hoovering up all their network capacity, AIS is preventing any other MVNO from having any success via TOT. AIS is to pay TOT $111 million (3.9 billion baht) a year for 80% of TOT’s network capacity, and in doing so is preventing competition from taking root.
While AIS paid $8.15 billion (286 billion baht) and transferred over $5.3 billion (186 billion baht) in assets over to TOT in the course of its concession, the figures could and should have been much higher. The $8.15 billion figure was only reached after a long and protracted fight over ownership of 13,000 base stations, and that $5.3 billion would have been $1.9 billion higher were it not for the seven highly controversial concession amendments.
Still, it was much better than that other telco who treated Build-Transfer-Operate as Build-Operate-Transfer (of nothing, as it was all rented), and revenue share as profit share, yielding practically nothing to the state during its concession. That is one issue that nobody dares raise, but it’s one for another day.