While renewing the 2G mobile licenses in November 2011, the authorities had mandated that each mobile operator pays 1% of gross revenue to Social Obligation Fund (SOF). It is just a version of Universal Service Fund.
By far four out of six operators have paid Tk. 2.4 billion (US$31 million) to Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, according to press report. The regulator is, however, unable to spend the money, as the government is yet to approve the rule in this regard.
What the press report has overlooked is: neither the stipulation of sharing 1% of gross revenue as SOF in the renewed license nor its realization is consistent with the law. Subsection 4 under Section 21A of the telecoms law says:
The maintenance of accounts and operation of the Social Obligation Fund, its administration, procedure for withdrawal of money of the said Fund and the rate of subscription for the Fund to be realized from the licensed operators, shall be prescribed by rules.
Who makes the rules? Section 98 of the law answers that question:
For carrying out the purposes of this Act, the Government may, by notification in the official Gazette, make rules consistent with the provisions of this Act.
The fact is – the government is yet to publish the rule pertaining to the rate, collection and spending of the SOF. And the entire process commences from the date of publishing the rule in an official gazette.
Therefore, BTRC’s collection of SOF prior to following this process is vulnerable to legal challenge. One may wonder why four out of six mobile operators have made payments. Answer of this $31 million question may be revealed at the court of law.