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Gobind Singh responds to 700MHz spectrum assignment controversy

Former Communications and Multimedia Minister, Gobind Singh Deo has expressed concern over the government’s recent action to assign 700MHz spectrum directly to Altel, Celcom, Digi, Maxis and TM without an open tender. He has called upon the Perikatan Nasional administration to explain the move as it would affect the development of Malaysia’s digital infrastructure and economic competitiveness.

In his Facebook post, the Puchong Member of Parliament had shared that during the Pakatan Harapan administration, they were not inclined to award the spectrum through Ministerial Orders. Instead, they have opted for an approach with greater transparency and accountability as part of its agenda for reformed and transparent governance.

Before the 5G spectrum for Malaysia was defined, the previous administration had initiated a Public Inquiry (PI) in July 2019 to receive feedback from industry experts, public and interested parties on MCMC’s proposal which will cover 700MHz, 2300MHz and 2600MHz bands. This was the first time MCMC was undertaking a PI on spectrum allocation matters.

The findings of the PI were made public on 31st December 2019 and it outlined the strategies to assign the spectrum. The 700MHz and 3.5GHz bands were proposed to be allocated to a single entity comprising a consortium formed by multiple licensees instead of assigning to individual licensees. The spectrum will be assigned through a tender process.

In the initial stage, MCMC will allocate 2x30MHz of the 700MHz band and 100MHz of the 3.5GHz band as a package of the tender process. The remaining frequencies for the two bands will be considered for assignment at the later stage.

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Gobind highlighted that the open process was significant as it would have identified the licensees with the best business plans and with the best track records for deployment. He added that the tender process would also have identified ways to lower capital expenditure (CAPEX) by minimising cost and prevent duplications of infrastructure while leveraging and optimising current resources owned and operated by the relevant licensees.

He found it difficult to see how a direct award of spectrum through a Ministerial Order would achieve any of the above objectives. He also questioned the criteria used to select providers, the revenue to the government and the benefits that Malaysians can hope to achieve.

Gobind’s post was published just minutes before the current Communications and Multimedia Minister, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah retracted the Ministerial Orders. Apart from the 700MHz band, the new minister had also retracted Ministerial Orders for 900MHz and 2600MHz spectrum assignments which are currently used for LTE.

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Alexander Wong