NBTC urged to delay upcoming auction
Two bidders in the running insufficient
The Digital Economy and Society (DES) Ministry has suggested the telecom regulator postpone the auction of the satellite orbital slots slated for July 24, saying the bidding, which involves various slots, still needs thorough and prudent consideration to ensure optimum benefit for the country.
This crucial auction should be held after the new members of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) board are appointed, said DES minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn. The recruitment of the new NBTC board members is now underway.
The auction of the four satellite orbital slot packages by the NBTC is a momentous event that marks the transition of the country’s satellite sector from a concession model to a real licensing regime.
There are four slot packages up for auction. The first consists of 50.5°East and 51°E slots with a reserve price of 677 million baht; the second is 78.5°E with a reserve price of 366.4 million baht; the third involves 119.5°E and 120°E at 393 million baht; and the last is for 126°E and 142°E for 364.6 million.
Mr Chaiwut said the auction involves many slots, including 119.5°E and 78.5°E, both of which are still occupied under the DES Ministry’s concession. The former is currently being used by the Thaicom 4 satellite and the latter was earlier used by Thaicom 5 satellite, which has been deorbited.
“The ministry urges the NBTC to suspend the planned auction for a certain period. However, this is up to the NBTC as it is an independent organisation under the constitution,” Mr Chaiwut said.
SET-listed satellite service provider Thaicom is now operating the Thaicom 4 broadband satellite and Thaicom 6 broadcasting satellite — both of which will have to be handed over to the DES Ministry after its concession ends in September.
Digital Economy and Society (DES) Minister Chaiwut Thanakhamanusorn.
Previously, the DES Ministry had assigned CAT Telecom to look after Thaicom’s 4 and 6 satellites after the concession ends but that responsibility currently belongs to NT, which was formed through the merger of CAT and TOT in January.
Mr Chaiwut said NT did not buy a bid document to join the auction but it is still premature to say whether it would participate in the future if the auction is pushed back.
In global practice, a state can keep some orbital slots for state purposes such as those to be used in national security, he said.
Only two firms bought a bid envelope to compete in the July 24 auction.
They are TC Space Connect, a subsidiary of Thaicom, and mu Space and Advanced Technology, a local satellite and space tech firm.
Mr Chaiwut said the upcoming auction is being seen as less attractive with only two bidders.
Thaicom chief executive Anant Kaewruamvongs said the company held talks with the ministry last month about the expiry of its satellite-operating concession in September. The state should have a clear strategy for what to do next to ensure optimum benefit for the country, he noted.
Air Marshal Thanapant Raicharoen, deputy secretary-general of the NBTC, said his office has not received a notification from the DES Ministry about its request for the deferral of the auction.
But this matter could be considered by the NBTC’s board next Wednesday, he said.
A source at the NBTC who requested anonymity said the two bidders are likely to bid for two out of four packages to ensure they get at least one.
The source said 119.5°E in the third package is the most sought-after, followed by 78.5°E in the second package and 50.5°E in the first, respectively.
The NBTC will hold a meeting on what to do next if some packages are not acquired in the bid, said the source.
A new auction, if required, must be brought up for public hearing and approved by the NBTC board.
The two firms will have to submit their bid request on July 5 and place a guarantee deposit based on the number of packages they will bid for.
If a company wants to bid for one package, it has to deposit 67.7 million baht — calculated from 10% of the reserve price of the package with the highest reserve price or the first.
A company that wants to bid for two packages will have to deposit 106.9 million baht based on the calculation from 10% of the first package’s reserve price plus 10% of the reserve price of the package with the second-highest price or the third package.
The source said 119.5°E slot in the third package will be most in-demand among bidders, particularly Thaicom as its Thaicom 4 broadband satellite currently uses the slot for operation.