It is sad that government suppliers shielded from competitive pressure do not learn, and keep repeating the same mistakes. Our Senior Policy Fellow Abu Saeed Khan has several comments in this Daily Star piece about the problems with how SEA-ME-WE 5 has been handled by the government companies. Though the task of laying the second submarine cable up to Kuakata landing station in Patuakhali was completed eight months ago for Tk 660 crore, the cable could not be connected to the inland network due to the BTCL’s failure to ensure an uninterrupted inland link. The government announced inaugurating the commercial use of the cable in mid-March. Later, it deferred the date to July 31.
The decline of telecoms tariff has been a universal trend. State-owned BTCL has, however, decided to double the monthly line rent and increase the call charges across the board. And they did it without giving a damn to the regulator. The usually rowdy BTRC is unusually calm about BTCL’s blatant noncompliance: The (BTRC) officials said they overlook the flouting of the law by the BTCL as the high-ups of the telecom ministry are involved with the latter’s policy making. The industry is unimpressed: According to the telecom act, PSTN operators have to take prior approval of BTRC for any kind of tariff and charges.
It was in December 2005 that I wrote the following in an op-ed in the Daily Star: The SAT-3 cable did not increase Internet traffic from Africa, including Nigeria. Indeed, the year-on-year growth slowed in the year after the cable (71 percent in 2002 and 53 percent in 2003). In the case of Nigeria, one reason could have been delays in completing the national infrastructure necessary for full use of the cable. While the landing station was completed in December of 2001 and the cable was inaugurated in May of 2002, the traffic started flowing from Nigeria only in April 2003. Those familiar with the repeated delays in contracting the “dry” segment of the cable from Cox’s Bazaar to Chittagong are likely to see the similarities.
The cabinet has decided to seize the regulatory functions from BTRC and give it back to the telecoms ministry in Bangladesh. Therefore, the politicians and civil servants will again assign licenses and spectrum. Even worse – they will approve the tariff and services. Welcome to the Stone Age. BTRC was born with a reasonable degree of independence on January 31, 2002.