The disagreement between Telenor’s dtac and Thailand’s telecom regulator NBTC (National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission) escalates as the telecommunications company filed a lawsuit before the Central Administrative Court on 6 September.
This follows a dtac statement on 5 September, which expressed disappointment over the NBTC board’s lack of resolution on the joint dtac-CAT customer protection plan that was submitted on June 7 for the 1800 and 850MHz spectrum.
Dtac took this drastic measure “for the temporary protection of its customers, in response to the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission’s refusal to allow dtac customers to use the 850 MHz spectrum band until the NBTC successfully organizes a new auction of such spectrum with proper conditions”.
The spectrum in question is under a concession from CAT lasting 27 years and ending September 15, 2018. Despite multiple requests for relief measures, the NBTC has yet to grant remedy to dtac’s customers, stated dtac. With nine days left before the end of concession, dtac therefore felt forced to take action to protect its customers by petitioning the courts to allow customers to continue using the 850 MHz network until the court issues a final verdict on the case or until the remedy period is
ended in accordance with the NBTC regulation.
“We view with grave concern the NBTC’s inability to arrive at a conclusion to this matter, despite the existence of a legal framework as well as the existence of precedence involving other operators. To protect our customers, we have no choice but to file a case for temporary protection,” said Mr. Rajiv Bawa, Chief Corporate Affairs and Business Development Officer, dtac.
On top of the 90,000 dtac customers under concession with CAT, there are many dtac TriNet customers regularly roaming on 850 MHz for nationwide coverage. As Telenor’s Thai entity has already pointed out, ensuring uninterrupted coverage for dtac customers is a joint responsibility of the NBTC, CAT and dtac. It is also a legal obligation under the Remedial Measures Notification of the NBTC.
On June 7, dtac and CAT submitted a joint letter to the NBTC asking for the right to provide 850 MHz services after the end of concession in accordance with the NBTC Remedial Measures Notification In the past, NBTC granted such a protection to customers of dtac’s competitors for durations between 9 to 26 months. But in dtac’s case, NBTC made customer protection on 850 MHz conditional upon dtac’s participation in the spectrum auction for 900 MHz.
“This is an unprecedented condition and such refusal to give remedy will cause irrevocable damage to dtac customers using our 850 MHz network. The 900 MHz bandwidth put on auction and the concession spectrum 850 MHz are two totally different bandwidths. Switching from 850 MHz to 900 MHz network would take 24 months of hardware upgrades across several thousands of sites nationwide. Moreover, there were no participants in the auction and it failed due to conditions inacceptable to all operators,” said Mr. Bawa.
“If the court grants an injunction allowing customers to use 850 MHz network during the court process, the state will collect all profits on 850 MHz, meaning customer protection does not damage the state in any way. On the other hand, if customers cannot use the 850 MHz network, this would cause the 850 MHz spectrum to remain idle, damaging both the state and dtaccustomers irreparably,” said Mr. Bawa.
In the coming days, dtac will be reaching out to customers it has identified as most likely to be affected by NBTC’s decision. Expansion of dtac’s services on 2300 MHz in partnership with TOT and 2100 MHz also continue at a very rapid pace to ensure rapid improvements in the network experience over the coming weeks.
Mr. Rajiv Bawa has also pointed out that the 850 MHz is most critical to people living in remote areas: “This is why remedial measures are critical to ensuring uninterrupted services until the NBTC successfully reassigns the spectrum to new licensees. It is NBTC’s responsibility to protect them together with dtac.”