[bangkok post] Thailand's effort to join the 3G communications era was crippled Thursday when a court ruled against an auction for licences that was to be held on Monday.
In a late evening decision, the Administrative Court ruled in favour of CAT Telecom's call for an injunction to suspend bids for 3G licences at an auction to be held by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) in Pran Buri.
The court backed arguments by CAT Telecom executives, led by president Jirayuth Roongsrithong, that the NTC has no authority to hold the auction.
The NTC said it would appeal against the ruling tomorrow. But executives admitted the 3G auction will have to be cancelled if the court's decision is not reversed in time.
"If the court accepts our appeal, we should be able to carry on with the auction. If not, the NTC will immediately cancel it," said Col Natee Sukonrat, NTC commissioner and head of the 3G auction project.
Mr Jirayuth said he did not think the NTC can hold the 3G auction as it will have to wait for the court to consider its appeal.
There was also the question of Thailand's other major telecommunications provider, TOT, pressing ahead with a similar case against the NTC after seeing Thursday's result.
The Administrative Court ruled that the licensing of the 3G spectrum must wait until the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) is formed.
The establishment of the NBTC is stipulated in the frequency allocation bill, which is pending final approval by the House of Representatives.
The bill was approved by the House in March. It was later endorsed by the Senate but with several amendments, including an increase in the number of NBTC board members from 11 to 15.
The bill has to be further scrutinised by the joint committee of the House and Senate. It is expected to be returned to the House over the next few months for final approval.
The court stated the NTC's attempt at 3G regulation through the auctioning of the licences could pose a problem for the NBTC's operations.
One industry source said: "This is going to be bigger than Map Ta Phut [in terms of investor confidence]. Everyone was waiting for this auction. Everyone was preparing to invest. Now what will happen?"
AIS chief Wichian Mektrakarn said the key issue now is whether the NTC will be able to appeal against the injunction in time.
"This should not affect the country's image because the NTC is bound to file an appeal. The private sector only has to follow the NTC's policy," Mr Wichian said.
Tore Johnsen, CEO of DTAC, said he was "disappointed by the court ruling as Thailand needs 3G now to increase the country's competitiveness". He said DTAC had fully supported 3G and been well prepared to get a licence.
Suphachai Chearavanont, CEO of True Corp, said he felt disappointed by the injunction. "I only hope that the appeal will allow the process to move forward. If the auction is put off indefinitely, it means the country will be going backwards."
According to Mr Supachai, the decision will significantly set back the industry's efforts to develop and encourage a new level playing field. It will also undermine the country's infrastructural competitiveness.
He acknowledged that True Move would lose the opportunity to compete with rivals in a fairer competition under a new licensing regime.
Mr Suphachai also denied speculation that True Corp was behind the attempt to disrupt the 3G auction.
"We are the most disappointed firm to hear the ruling. We are ready and destined to win a 3G licence," he said.
Thana Thienachariya, DTAC's chief strategy and corporate affairs officer, also expressed deep sorrow for the telecommunications industry as he felt the sector is now "helpless and with no future".
ICT Minister Juti Krairiksh said he was confident a 3G auction would take place within this year. "The NTC will have to file an appeal to the Administrative Court. I believe the process will not take too long. There is no doubt the NTC will solve this problem promptly and carry on with the mission. It's still the government's policy to push for 3G development," Mr Juti said.
CAT wins fight to kill 3G auction - Court rules NTC has no right to offer licences