NBTC releases framework to auction Dtac’s concessionary spectrum

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Thailand’s telecoms regulator, National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), has laid out the framework for the early auction of Dtac’s expiring concessionary spectrum – three licenses on 1800 MHz and one on 850 MHz – with a starting price not lower than 2015’s record-breaking auctions.

NBTC Secretary-General Takorn Tantasit said the plan would not be put to the current board, but instead will be put to the new NBTC board in October. Takorn said he would use the new NBTC act to include MCOT’s 2.6-GHz spectrum in the auction at the same time.

Dtac has a concession with what was the Communications Authority of Thailand (now CAT Telecom) for 45.5 MHz in the 1800-MHz band and 10 MHz in 850 MHz, both of which expire on September 30 next year. Takorn said that it would be up to the new board to decide whether to auction all four licenses or just three, citing the 2.1-GHz non-auction where three operators bid for three licenses. Takorn said he wanted active competition to ensure a high auction price.

Takorn said that the starting price for bidding would be the same price per MHz, adjusted for inflation: $1.12 billion (40 billion baht) for the 1800-MHz license and $2.14 billion (76 billion baht) for the 850-MHz license. Takorn said the 850-MHz reserve price is based on the similar 900-MHz auction.

Takorn said he was confident the NBTC could hold an early auction despite opposition from CAT Telecom, which believes it has the right to use the spectrum after the concession expires, and downplayed questions whether he would need the junta to use Section 44, the absolute power clause in the constitution, to ensure a smooth auction.

In April 2016, the junta invoked Section 44 to order the regulator to hold the 900-MHz re-auction after Jasmine defaulted – and by doing so nipped a salvo of lawsuits in the bud. More recently in December, the junta used Section 44 to overrule the NBTC Act and allow army-run radio stations to hold on to their expiring spectrum instead of returning it as planned it to the NBTC for reallocation, ostensibly in the name of national security.

The NBTC secretary-general also said that no decision had yet been made on the spectrum cap, though he did say the old cap of 60 MHz was outdated. Of the three telcos, only TrueMove would have a problem with the existing 60-MHz spectrum cap.

He also said that the new NBTC Act would give the commission more powers to recall and compensate MCOT for 80 MHz of 2.6 GHz spectrum, which he said he would probably divide up into four licenses for auction soon.

The new frequency act – or NBTC Act – is due to be rubber-stamped by the junta-appointed legislature any day now. Key changes include bringing the regulator back under the control of the executive branch of government, giving the regulator control only over commercial spectrum, with spectrum for good causes being allocated by the Digital Economy Commission beforehand and with much less financial autonomy.

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