The heart of Poipet, the big roundabout just inside the Cambodian side of the border, showing the main street of the town stretching into the distance. Most businesses here use the Thai domestic telephone network because of the lower cost, but the Cambodian Government has declared receiving antennas for the Thai Interphone network illegal and a crackdown has started.
The Ministry of Post and Telecommunication (MPTC) has ordered casinos and other businesses
at the border town of Poipet to stop using Thailand's domestic telephone network
in Cambodia, because they say it diverts revenue from the state budget.
Casinos and larger businesses in the Poipet area, which do most of their business
with Thailand, use the Thai network because it's much cheaper per call, and mobile
phone calls from Cambodia into Thailand are charged at international rates.
They use special antennas to pick up the network where it spills across the border.
It happens in five provinces but the usage is greatest in Poipet, the international
border crossing where doing business across the line is a way of life for almost
So Khun, Minister of Post and Telecommunications, ordered on August 3 that all antenna
structures be collapsed by September 24. The MPTC believes there are some 500 antennas
operating in Cambodian border provinces. Initially they were erected under license,
but an unknown number are illegal.
The cost of operating an antenna to receive and relay calls is about 10,000 baht
($2,500) per month.
The cost of a Thai Interphone call is 10 baht (25 cents) a minute; landline calls
per minute between Thailand and Cambodia are 60 cents.
Ork Bora, chief of the MPTC office at Banteay Meanchey, said the number of Thai "Interphone"
consumers was increasing faster than even the domestic telephone network coverage
in the whole of Cambodia.
Bora said a survey in 2002 showed that in Banteay Meanchey province 80 Thai Interphone
antennas were set up and by 2004 there were about 150.
"We have ordered the collapse of all antennas by September 24," he said.
"The government is losing about $50,000 to $60,000 every month. We think the
national interest is more important than the personal convenience."
Nuth Ly, police chief at Ochrov district said the Thai Interphone covers about four
kilometers around Poipet.
Domestic networks like Mobitel, Samart and Camshin could cover in the Poipet area
and also about four to five kilometers inside Thailand; most Cambodian people who
did business in Thailand near the border used the these domestic networks.
Kry Chheng, director of the Inspection Department at MPTC, said the ministry learned
that the state had lost income for a long time, "but we did not have enough
network coverage for them before. Now the local phone networks have coverage nationwide
so we have to ask them to drop their antennas. Most consumers who use the Thai Interphone
network are the businessmen. Once we explained the cost to the national budget, they
agreed to de-activate their antennas. There was no bad reaction."
Chheng said not only people in Banteay Meanchey used the Thai Interphone network
but also in Koh Kong, Battambang, Pursat and Oddor Meanchey provinces.
Minister So Khun said in the past some casinos in Poipet like Holiday, Ho Wah Genting,
Grand Diamond, Tropicana, Star Vegas, Golden Crown, and other companies had been
using leased lines and the Thai Interphone network. He said they could now use mobile
phones or state line networks nationwide.
Khun said: "Before we allowed use of the Thai Interphone network in some provinces
near the border because the domestic network did not cover nationwide, but now we
have enough network coverage for supply.
"We are discussing with private companies to reduce the cost of calling out
between state phone and mobile phone."
MPTC will cooperate with the Post and Telegraphic Department of Thailand to cut off
abuse of the network in Cambodia.
Soth Kosal, chief of human resources at Golden Crown Casino, said the casino used
two lines of Thai phone network and also the local phone networks.
"The majority of our calls are to Thailand from Cambodia; therefore, if we use
a Cambodian mobile or state phone line network we are charged double," said
Nuth Ly said not many people at Poipet used the Thai Interphone network, because
it was more difficult than domestic networks.
"About 20 percent of population in Poipet are using Thai network, and most of
them are the businessmen," said Nuth Ly.
Banteay Meanchey Police Chief Sok Sareth said some districts along the border used
the Thai phone network, like Malai, Svay Chek, Sisophon, and Thmar Pouk. The antennas
had been set up since 1993.
"The Ministry of Post and Telecommunication will take very strict measures against
people who keep using their antenna," he said.
Thach Khorn, Governor of Banteay Meanchey, said the provincial authority had informed
casino owners and consumers at Poipet about the closure.
Yuth Phouthang, governor of Koh Kong, said some high-ranking officials had been using
the Thai phone network but had now stopped; some business people still used it secretly.
Phouthang said the Thai network reached 500 meters into the province. "Many
people here use two Simcards, Khmer and Thai. If they need to call to Thailand they
just go to the border which is about eight kilometers away where they use Thai Simcard."