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Thai telcos threaten to sue watchdog over 3G license delay

Two of the three telcos which won 3G auction last month say they will sue regulators if distribution of licenses are further delayed.
Written by Ellyne Phneah, Contributor

Two major mobile operators in Thailand are threatening to sue the country's National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) if it does not issue 3G licenses by mid-January.

According to The Bangkok Post on Sunday, the telecom watchdog had commited to award the licenses within 90 days ofthe auction for 45 megahertz of spectrum on the 2100MHz band.

The NBTC also said it will grant 15-year licenses to the three bidders within seven days after their upfront fees were paid. The auction winners, Advanced Info Service (AIS), Total Access Communication (Dtac) and True Move, had paid half the bid price to the NBTC after they were formally declared the winners on Oct. 16.

"We plan to file a petition with the court against the NBTC for failing to award us licenses as stipulated in the 3G's information memorandum," Somprasong Boonyachai, executive chairman of AIS's parent InTouch, said in the report. He added that operators have no choice but to protect their rights.

To be fair to the telecom operators, once the 3G's information memorandum is published, the NBTC must proceed to issue the licenses or face legal challenges, Somprasong said.

Vice chairman at True Move, Athueck Asvanund, also said in the article his company will also consider joining any legal action against the NBTC if the licenses continue to be delayed.

However, NBTC commissioner Suthipol Taweechaikam, insisted the regulator had followed every step required by the law for the distribution of the 3G spectrum, including conducting public hearings.

"We are confident we can clarify the matter to [Thailand's] Administrative Court if it accepts the case. We have prepared our defence for every aspect," he said.

Further legal complications
The prospect of NBTC granting the 3G licenses by the deadline was also complicated by the Ombudsman's decision to question the validity of the 3G auction at the Administrative Court on Thursday.

The three members of the Ombudsman's office agreed to ask the court to decide if the 3G auction was free and fair, and to issue an injunction to stop issuance of the licences until the court ruling is delivered, a separate report by The Bangkok Post noted.

Settapong Malisuwan, chairman of the regulator's telecom committee also said the NBTC will follow the court order if a ruling is made, and immediately cease issuing the licenses to the auction winners if the court decides to grant an injunction.

"On the other hand, if the court rules in favour of us, we will quickly move ahead to issue the 3G licenses within 90 days, or Jan. 18 next year, to comply with the 3G's information memorandum condition," he said.

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