No strings on Thaicom 6

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Thaicom Plc, the country's sole private satellite operator, has unconditionally decided to build a sixth satellite despite receiving no incentives or a concession period extension.

However, the company, founded by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, hopes to raise the concession issue with the new National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission for further negotiation.

Chief executive Arak Chonlatanon said the Thaicom board yesterday granted approval for management to launch Thaicom 6 after the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Ministry okayed the plan last week.

He said the satellite would cost US$160 million and be funded through the Export-Import Bank of the United States.

Thaicom 6 will be positioned at 78.5 degrees East and use fourth-generation broadcast-oriented technology. It is scheduled to be launched in mid-2013.

The company will share the same 17.5% revenue proportion from Thaicom 6 with the government, said Mr Arak.

He said the company's remaining nine years of its concession would make launching the new satellite viable, ensuring it can reach the break-even point.

"Construction of the new satellite could help us to comply with state requirements," said Mr Arak.

The company has been asked to launch Thaicom 6 as a backup for Thaicom 5, based on the government's interpretation of the terms of its concession.

The request came in the wake of the Feb 26, 2010 Supreme Court ruling in the Thaksin assets seizure case.

In that decision, the high court ruled the Thaksin cabinet had allowed Thaicom to change the terms of its concession to launch the iPSTAR broadband satellite as its main satellite rather than as a backup for Thaicom 3 as stipulated in the terms of the concession agreement.

The Council of State issued a legal finding in 1997 that past concession amendments of telecom operators, including those of Thaicom, did not comply with the terms of the Public-Private Joint Venture Act of 1992.

Thaicom needs the ICT ministry to clarify all the unclear details including returns to the company in exchange for a new satellite launch in case the ministry does not extend the concession period.

In another development, Thaicom said it expected to earn several billion baht in revenue from a 10-year contract signed with Measat Global Bhd of Malaysia.

The deal, which starts this year, will allow Measat to secure a major portion of iPSTAR's capacity over Malaysia. Measat will be iPSTAR's national service operator in Malaysia, with exclusive rights to provide bandwidth and related broadband services, marketed as Measat-5.
 
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