Bangkok bits: Free rail spectrum, MCOT reversal, Google tax

bangkok rail
Image credit: Christopher PB /

ITEM: NBTC Secretary-General Takorn Tantasith announced that the telecoms regulator is allocating 850- and 400-MHz spectrum to two high-speed rail projects.

Dtac currently has 10 MHz of 850-MHz under a concession with state telco CAT Telecom. The NBTC will allocate half of that to a Chinese high-speed rail project after the concession expires on September 15, 2018. Another 5 MHz of 400-MHz spectrum currently used by government agencies will be allocated to the Japanese leg of the high-speed rail project.

Takorn said the decision to give the spectrum – valued at over 70 billion baht – for free to the Ministry of Transport, was due to the fact that auctioning it would delay the high-speed rail project. Prime Minister and junta leader General Prayuth Chanocha has used Article 44, the absolute power clause in the constitution, to controversially exempt the high-speed rail project from procurement laws and engineering and architect licensing laws.

Takorn noted that the remaining 5 MHz of 850-MHz will be auctioned along with 45 MHz of 1800 MHz spectrum before Dtac’s concession expires. He also announced that the 900-MHz guard band from 920-925 MHz is now allocated for IoT networks.

ITEM: MCOT, formerly the Mass Communications Organization of Thailand, has changed its mind about giving up its 2600-MHz spectrum for 4G, now saying it will use the spectrum itself.

MCOT managing director Khematat Poladech told reporters that MCOT has always planned to use the 2600-MHz spectrum for broadcasting as per its license granted by the Cabinet in 1999. He said that as a listed company, he would protect his shareholders’ interests, and that if the NBTC were to recall part of the spectrum they would have to pay damages and opportunity costs to MCOT.

The 2600 issue has been floating around for years. In April 2015, former Deputy Prime Minister Pridiyathorn Devakula said MCOT offered to return 60 MHz of 2600-MHz (2356-2584 MHz and 2592-2608 MHz) in exchange for $309 million in compensation. In November that year, deputy junta leader Prajin Juntong announced just after the 1800-MHz auction that 2600 would soon be up for auction.

ITEM: Thailand’s Revenue Department has finalised its e-business tax rules, which will be forwarded to the Commerce Minister for approval within the month before it is approved by the Cabinet and enacted.

Revenue Department Director-General Prasong Poontanate told reporters the new law was targeted at YouTube, Facebook and Google, which have so far avoided paying tax in Thailand. Once enacted, anyone paying an overseas business that operates over the Internet will have to pay up to 15% withholding tax directly to the Revenue Department. Full details will be finalized at a later date.

Prasong also told reporters that the Revenue Department was investing over 800,000 local e-commerce operators for tax avoidance. He said that the use of electronic payments, including credit and debit cards and the new PromptPay telephone-number based payments system, was making tax collection much more efficient.

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