Government dictates the rate of international calls being terminated in Bangladesh. And it is always way above the hyper-competitive international wholesale voice rate. The regulator also takes away 40 per cent of the gross international revenue. Both the elements have been strongly incentivizing illegal bypass.
Moreover, the international gateway (IGW) operators have been allowed to form a cartel named International Gateway Operators Forum (IOF). It has backfired yet the politically strong IOF remained defiant.
Meanwhile, the regulator feels the heat from finance ministry, as its booty keeps shrinking. It cannot, however, officially admit the foolishness of tariff regulation or the formation of IOF syndicate. Therefore, the regulator needs a scapegoat and nothing beats OTT applications as the target.
“People in Bangladesh receive average 70 million minutes daily. The amount was 120 million minutes before the hike in call termination rate from 1.5 cents to 2 cents per minute in August 2015,” he pointed out. The BTRC chief, however, does not think the hike in call rate is the main reason behind the shrinking number of calls.
In his view, with the increasing accessibility to the internet on mobile phones, the popularity of apps like Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, and Imo, which provide free call over the Internet, is also increasing. This is also impacting the legal voice calls, he says.
“It’s a big problem for us. Many calls are also being made through OTT like Viber, Imo or WhatsApp, not only through illegal VoIP. But we are yet to assess the amount of calls now,” Mahmood said.
Asked what the government will do about it, he said, “No guideline on this matter has been made yet. We are trying to see examples in other countries. Some of the countries have declared those illegal while some others have allowed only data services, not voice calls.”
“We have just begun to think about the matter. We will take a decision on it within a month or two,” Mahmood added.
Regulator’s plan to block the OTT apps was received with furious outcry in the social media. It prompted the junior telecoms minister to pacify the public. “Imo, Viber, WhatsApp… these apps will not be prohibited. There is no question about it,” she declared two days after the regulator’s press conference.
Such 180-degree tilt on OTT calling apps may appease the crowd. It, however, reveals a scary fault line at the top level. That is quite alarming.