NBTC suggests calling the cops on CAT Telecom over illegal spectrum allocation

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Thailand’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) has meekly requested its Secretary-General to go to a police station and file a complaint against state telco CAT Telecom for illegally operating a telecommunications network with TrueMove without a license on the 800-MHz band.

This is the latest chapter in a long-running saga over the status of TrueMove’s 850-MHz 4G network that started as a non-commercial 3G trial in 2009 and has since gone commercial nationwide without a license under a back-door de facto concession with CAT Telecom.

The full NBTC board convened on April 18, and on the agenda was CAT Telecom’s illegal use of 800-MHz.

On May 6, 2010, NBTC’s predecessor, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), ruled that CAT Telecom may not use the 800-MHz band. The NTC Act and the constitution at the time prohibited the reallocation of spectrum until the independent regulatory bodies were set up. CAT Telecom had gone ahead and reallocated part of its legacy 800-MHz AMPS spectrum run by Dtac to TrueMove for its 3G network. True was ostensibly the MVNO and CAT the MNO, though for all intents and purposes the roles were reversed.

The NBTC found that CAT was still using 800-MHz without a license and in November last year issued a fine to CAT for $5,000 (174,000 baht) under the ancient Radio Telecommunications Act BE 2498 (1955). To put that in context, the same amount of spectrum a bit higher up on the 900-MHz band went for over $2 billion.

In Tuesday’s meeting, the NBTC was informed that while the Telecommunications Business Act stipulates punishment of six-years in jail and/or a $291,000 (10 million Baht) fine for use of spectrum without a license, the NBTC Secretariat was unable to process any punishments that involved a jail term of more than six months.

In a final act of desperation, the outgoing NBTC Board could only rule that a motion be put before the NBTC telecom sub-board for it to consider asking the NBTC Secretary-General to go to a police station and file a police report for further action to be taken against CAT Telecom.

This is unlikely to happen. Recently the NBTC board ruled that TOT’s 2300-MHz network was illegal under Section 46 of the frequency act (the no-sub letting clause) and recommended the spectrum be recalled for reallocation through auction. Instead the NBTC Secretary-General simply held a press conference saying that TOT executives had explained things, and that the project would go ahead as planned.

Meanwhile, AIS has responded to a Disruptive.Asia story on how the NBTC had inexplicably declared 920-950 MHz as unlicensed IoT spectrum despite AIS having paid $2 billion for the 940-950-MHz portion of those bands.

In a statement, an AIS spokesperson said, “With regard to the question on whether IoT licensing would interfere with AIS’ use of 900 MHz, AIS feels that this is a matter for the NBTC, and AIS will gladly cooperate and comply.”

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Don Sambandaraksa
About Don Sambandaraksa 110 Articles
Don is a contributing editor for Disruptive.Asia. For most of the 00s, he was the face of Database, the enterprise tech section of the Bangkok Post, and later covered Thailand and the region for Telecom Asia. Before becoming a journalist he was a civil servant at Thailand's ICT Ministry. He is currently studying for an M.Sc. in Digital Currency at the University of Nicosia. He is also an avid proponent of strong encryption and Bitcoin.

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