The military regime in Thailand threatened to investigate Telenor’s local operations after the company revealed it had been ordered to block access to social media during last month’s coup. The authorities denied they ordered the Facebook shut down, and claimed the page crashed due to unusually high activity.
Norwegian telecommunications giant Telenor partly owns Thailand’s second largest telecoms operator, Dtac. Telenor Asia’s communications chief Tor Odland confirmed to newspaper Aftenposten on Saturday that Thailand’s national telecommunications and broadcasting regulator had ordered a temporary block of Facebook access on May 28, following the latest uprising.
“Prior to this a meeting had been held between the regulator and all the major internet providers in Thailand,” Odland said. “The restriction was implemented at 3:35pm and had the potential to affect Dtac’s 10 million Facebook users.” Access was restored about an hour later. Odland said Telenor believed in open communication, and regretted the impact the restriction could have for the people of Thailand.
Telenor’s comments to Aftenposten and some English language news sites infuriated the regime, which denied the claims. “It is inappropriate and disrespectful,” deputy of the broadcasting regulator, colonel Setthapong Malisuwan, told Thai newspaper Naew Na on Wednesday. “If Thailand has such great problems, Telenor should invest in another place.”
Aftenposten reported the military made demonstrations illegal and blocked access to more than 200 websites after seizing power on May 22. The military denied earlier admissions to news service Reuters that it had ordered internet providers to block access to Facebook in order to stifle opposition. It claimed extra high activity had crashed the social media site.
Protestors had used social media in the past to coordinate demonstrations. Authorities have arrested activists who have used Facebook to organize resistance efforts. The police warned even “liking” Facebook pages critical of the military coup was considered a criminal act.
In reaction, the military said it would monitor Telenor’s Thai interests. National ownership laws ban foreign shareholders from owning more than 49 percent of telecommunications companies. Telenor holds a 42.6 percent stake in Dtac after becoming a part owner in 2001.
“In the future we will be careful and monitor the share holdings in Dtac,” Setthapong said. “If we find that the proportion of foreign shareholders can break our laws for foreign ownership, we will be able to exclude Telenor from the auction for frequencies in the 4G network.”
He told local English language website The Nation that a proper review of foreign ownership in the telecommunications industry would be done, because “communication is a key to the protection of our national security.”