The five-member National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), Thailand’s communications regulator, has voted 3:2 to “acknowledge” the plan for a merger between True Corporation and Total Access Communications (DTAC), but with conditions attached.
The decision came after the board spent more than 10 hours discussing the scope of its authority to approve a merger plan, the five points of concern over the merger plan and post-merger measures. Consumer protection groups, state enterprise labour unions and civic groups were rallying at the NBTC office during the meeting, to voice their opposition to the merger which, they claim, may lead to market control and unfair competition.
Conditions to be applied to the merged entity include service fee controls and ceilings, independent verification of the cost structures and service pricing by experts, hired by the operators at their expense, for at least five years post-merger, space to be provided for the operations of mobile virtual network operators (MVNO) and separate rates to be charged for voice, data and messaging services.
Under to the board’s conditions, True and DTAC will use their current brand names, True Move H Universal Communications (TUC) and DTAC TriNet (DTN), for three years after the merger, before they can adopt a new brand name.
They are also required to install a 5G network to cover 75% of the Thai population within three years of the merger and 90% coverage within five years.
The merger will increase the combined market share of True and DTAC to 56% (34% for True and 21% for DTAC) against 44% by their competitor, Advanced Info Services (AIS).
The merger will leave Thailand with only two key operators: AIS and the newly merged entity.
Before the final vote yesterday, the NBTC board was evenly split, with two members, including the board chairman, agreeing that the merger will not lead to a duopoly of the telecom business or unfair competition while the other two disagreed. One board member abstained from voting on grounds that there are still several unresolved legal issues.
According to the NBTC rules, the board chairman is authorised to cast a deciding vote, hence the 3:2 vote in favour of the merger plan.