NTC passes the concessions buck to the ICT Ministry

The telecoms regulator has declined to look into all the complaints of unfair and predatory practices against cellular market leader Advanced Info Service that were lodged jointly by its two major rivals.

Suranan Wongvithayakamjorn, secretary-general of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), said yesterday it had reached the conclusion that it had no authority to examine issues relating to concessions, as they were written before its establishment.

The NTC will ask the Information and Communications Technology Ministry, which oversees TOT and CAT Telecom, to look into the cases involving concessions between the two state enterprises and Total Access Communication (DTAC) and True Move - the two players that made the joint allegations against AIS.

Suranan said the NTC could consider only two out of the total of four issues brought up by DTAC and True Move. One is related to number portability, which is within its authority.

National number portability will allow all subscribers to keep the same phone number - fixed or mobile - when switching service providers, rather than going through the inconvenience of getting a new number each time.

"We are drafting the schedule for implementing number portability and it is expected to be finished this year," Suranan said.

Last week DTAC and True Move submitted a joint request to the NTC and the ICT Ministry for disciplinary action in response to alleged unfair and discriminatory business practices by AIS, which dominates the market.

The two operators asked the two authorities to look into four major issues - revenue sharing, access charging, price dumping and number portability.

They said that in 2001 TOT, which awarded a cellular concession to AIS, allowed AIS to share revenues from its prepaid call service at the flat rate of 20 per cent for the rest of the concession, which expires in 2015.

Under the original terms, AIS had to share such revenue with TOT on an incremental basis, starting at 15 per cent and ending at 30 per cent.

They said the move allowed AIS to enjoy lower operating costs than other service providers.

AIS argued that TOT granted the relief to AIS after TOT changed the access charge that its concession holder DTAC has to pay it. Instead of Bt178 per prepaid user per month, DTAC now pays TOT at the rate of 18 per cent. The change was made in the same year of 2001.

DTAC and True Move have accused AIS of benefiting from the waiving of the access charge by TOT. AIS said DTAC should have known from day one that it would have to bear the access charge and questioned why DTAC still went ahead and signed the concession deal with TOT.

As for the price-dumping charge, the NTC is probing if AIS marketing promotions violate its fair-competition regulations.

DTAC and True Move claim that without number portability consumers have no freedom to migrate from one service to another. This benefits only AIS, which has the biggest customer base and stands to lose the most from migration.

Last week AIS said it had always supported number portability.

The NTC meeting also approved 1.5 million mobile phone numbers for AIS out of its request for 2 million numbers.

Usanee Mongkolporn
The Nation
source: NTC passes the concessions buck to the ICT Ministry