Thai 3G auction hits roadblock

Two of three top telecom players ask for court ruling

BANGKOK -- Thai state-run telephone firm TOT Pcl will ask a court on Friday to block a long-awaited auction for third-generation mobile licenses due to start on Sept. 20, the second such request by a state company.

The Central Administrative Court has accepted to hear a request by another state firm, CAT Telecom Pcl, into whether the telecoms regulator has the authority to issue 3G licenses.

Like CAT, TOT will also ask the court to order a temporary halt to the 3G auction, a senior TOT official said Thursday, adding that TOT would be damaged by the 3G licensing process.

The court is expected to decide shortly whether to suspend the auction in line with CAT's request.

The telecoms regulator plans to hold the 3G auction on Sept. 20-28. The introduction of 3G has already been delayed for years in Thailand, in large part because of political turbulence.

The introduction of 3G, bringing a change in the way operators pay fees to the government, is seen as a crucial step in reforming the $4.7 billion sector and could pave the way for foreign players to grab a bigger slice of the industry.

Shares in Thai telecoms stocks have risen sharply in recent months as the introduction of 3G should lead to lower regulatory costs.

Under existing concessions, operators pay about 25-30% of their revenue to state companies like TOT or CAT Telecom. That compares with about 6% under the 3G licensing scheme.