Bangladesh Illegal VoIP operators make fortune as govt stalls licensing
While powerful illegal internet telephony operators keep on draining out hundreds of crores taka each year, the government is delaying the process of awarding licence for VoIP operation on various pretexts ignoring a fresh recommendation of Bangladesh Telecom Regulatory Authority (BTRC).
The government now says the licence for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) will be given after setting up a common platform in four areas of the country under Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board (BTTB) through which Internet phone calls will be channelised. The four areas are Dhaka, Chittagong, Sylhet and Bogra.
Such a common platform, to be connected to the submarine cable, will not start operation before June next, even if the authorities try their best. The submarine cable project is yet to be completed.
A seven-member BTRC committee a couple of weeks ago recommended that VoIP licence may be given to applicants, under certain terms and conditions as an interim measure, before this common platform comes into operation. The BTRC believes it will be at least a year before this platform is ready.
The BTRC suggested that interested applicants will be provided with a particular set of information about the permanent arrangement of routing VoIP or Internet traffic through four Transmission Platforms of the BTTB and the interim arrangement to be made until the common platform is in operation.
But the BTTB, which is a direct victim of the seven-eight-year old illegal Internet telephony, last week recommended to the telecoms ministry not to award VoIP licence without having a national level common platform or bypassing its (BTTB) national Internet gateway.
Without a common platform, the government cannot "watch over" the telecommunication network in the context of the world-wide rise of terrorism, the BTTB argued to the telecoms ministry.
The BTTB last month floated a Tk 25 crore tender for setting up the common platform. Three Chinese companies have submitted bids.
Sources however said the BTTB is already facing some hitch over the tender process as a technical sub-committee for the bid has recommended re-tendering of the scheme. "If the Technical Evaluation Committee (Tec) for this tender can hold a meeting, we can expect a decision over the existing tender within a month," said a BTTB official.
A top BTTB official strongly argued against legalising VoIP before setting up the common platform. "The government’s ICT Task Force in May had decided to operate VoIP through a common platform. The BTRC suggestion ignores that decision," he says.
He claimed that the BTRC suggestion also violates the telecom policy, 1998 and Bangladesh telecom-munications act, 2001 as those provide that through the BTTB, the state will enjoy monopoly of international circuits.
If the common platform is bypassed, it will open hundreds of international gateways for voice transmission, he argued. The neighbouring countries have not yet opened up their VoIP fully. It will be very difficult to monitor the VoIP operators.
The BTRC had announced in late 2003 that it would award licence for VoIP operation in January 2004. But it never happened although the government is aware that this business is draining out nearly Tk 1,000 crore a year of the BTTB’s business.
Meanwhile, the number of illegal VoIP operations across the country has reached several thousand, according to some market operators.
The evidence of their growth is marked in the latest report of an international telecom research organisation,Telegeography (http://www.telegeography.com). The report states that in 2004, Bangladesh was the third fastest growing destination for international VoIP traffic. Brazil and Nigeria led the world in growth last year, with 112 percent and 103 percent. Bangladesh marked a growth of 97 percent. Globally, VoIP traffic grew by 35 percent in 2004.