Merger deal still in chaos with complaint to Chula President

Chula

The NT State Enterprise Union group travelled to present a document to the President of Chulalongkorn University to request consideration of research services of Chula Unisearch, in the matter of the business merger between True Corporation PCL and Total Access Communication PCL or Dtac. Prof Dr Parichart Sthapitanonda, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Social Outreach at Chulalongkorn University, was delegated to receive the document on this occasion.

This follows on from news in which it appeared NBTC had hired Chula Unisearch to perform a study and analysis of the business merger between True and Dtac for a sum of 10 million baht. Subsequently, parts of the study were disclosed and it appeared that there was broad public criticism of the quality and standards of the work with the following issues:

1. The issue of NBTC’s powers of consideration according to the law

Chula Unisearch had the opinion that NBTC, despite being an independent organization under the Constitution with the authority and obligations to regulate broadcast and telecommunications businesses, but however lacked the authority to approve or disapprove the business merger on this occasion. It is only able to specify conditions or specific measures to enforce. Also, the results of the study also stated that the Announcement of NBTC in the matter of measures to oversight on Telecom business mergers of 2018 was a secondary law with without the basis of legal authority established by the original law. Therefore, the authority to consider the merger was under the oversight of the Trade Competition Commission Thailand.

Chula

This opinion was severely criticized for being in complete conflict with the opinion of the NBTC Subcommittee which had been appointed with a former Arbitrator at the Supreme Administrative Court, a former High Court judge, and an academic from the Faculty of Law involved with teaching and research in trade competition law. It was also in violation of the order of the Central Administrative Court in Case Black no. 775/2565, which stated clearly that NBTC has the legal authority to consider approval or disapproval of this business merger, if it was seen to be causing a monopoly, or reducing or limiting competition in telecommunications. Also, the Trade Competition Commission had also previously affirmed that the merger of these telecom businesses was in the authority of NBTC, according to its establishing laws.

2. Issue of business merger impact analysis

It is well known and of great interest to the general public that the business merger between True and Dtac is one of the largest ever mergers in the country’s history. It will give rise to a new company with market share in mobile phones of over 50%, in terms of both users and revenues, as well as industry. Most importantly, it will reduce big operators in the market, which currently has severe competition between three operators, to just two. This is a state of monopoly, impacting service users who will shoulder the burdens of more expensive service charges. The two big service providers will have no further incentive to compete, particularly on price. In a study from TDRI, a large number of academics from all around the country, consumers associations and organizations, and the general public have expressed opinions objecting to the merger or disagreeing with it. Even the study of NBTC’s Economic Subcommittee, established for this express purpose, had an opinion in the same direction.

However, it appeared that the opinion of Chula Unisearch had failed to demonstrate an analysis or opinion on this impact in any clear way. Moreover, it had the characteristic of inclining in favour of the merger, by invoking various benefits such as economies of scale, more efficient access to network signal, better coverage, building resilience into the network quality, and providing greater convenience to consumers from an increased number of after-sales service outlets, etc. All of these points are the benefits of the service provider and overlook the severe impacts on the general public of service users. This report, besides having issues of research quality and professionalism, also raised doubts and suspicions about its ultimate objective, as to whether it really was fulfilling the needs of the Office of NBTC, its client, or vested interests in this business merger, if it comes to fruition.

Chula

The NT State Enterprise Union group were acting as concerned members of the public with this criticism which had occurred. Chulalongkorn University is an institution with a long-standing high reputation among educational establishments, as a leading national center of knowledge, producing personnel with quality and ethics, to bring prosperity and progress to the country and benefit the people. It is also a highly credible organization with the trust of the people for over 100 years since its foundation. Issuing studies or reports in the university’s name implicate the university and the reputation of other faculties. Operations should be circumspect and neutral according to universally accepted academic principles. They should be able to justify their opinions, the results of their research and or object constructively. This particularly applies to research or reports with impacting on the general public of mobile phone service users, who are most people in the country.

Therefore, the NT State Enterprise Union group requested the university to conduct an investigation on procedure for taking on work, and on the research procedures or academic research reports from Chula Unisearch. These should be transparent and according to academic principles and the principles of research. They should be conducted in an appropriate time frame, and the should yield quality results without any suspicions attached, to maintain the good reputation of Chulalongkorn University.

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