Mustafa Jabbar, the newly appointed minister for the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology, cannot waste much time on receiving bouquets and greetings. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina has offloaded this portfolio on him after unceremoniously ejecting her veteran comrade in October 2014. Since then Hasina had been minding this ministry besides discharging her prime ministerial duties. She depended on two junior ministers – Zunaid Ahmed Palak for Information Technology and Tarana Halim for Posts and Telecommunications – to run the show. It had been a poor show and Jabbar must fix it.
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).
Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has deferred the auction of 1800 MHz and 2100 MHz spectrum until June 10. Its warning of bringing new entrants has already failed to tame the boycotting mobile operators. Now the regulator is blackmailing the mobile industry on QoS. Sunil Kanti Boss, chairman of Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, said the mobile phone operators need more spectrum, and if the leading operators do not take part in the upcoming spectrum auctions, they cannot offer quality services. “If operators fail to ensure quality services, they will be penalised for it,” the BTRC chairman said at a press conference at his office yesterday, on the eve of World Telecommunication and Information Society Day 2015.
Running telecoms transmission business is not the small and medium enterprises’ cup of tea. Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) denies this universal truth, as it revised the infrastructure sharing guidelines on July 7, 2011. It mandates a middleman, dubbed as Nationwide Telecommunication Transmission Network (NTTN), between the legacy owners of fiber networks and their customers. As a result, the cost of domestic backhaul has jumped by manifolds. The mobile operators and the ISPs have strongly protested the regulatory malpractice.
National Telecom Policy of 1998 still governs Bangladesh. It has prompted the Telecom Reporters’ Network Bangladesh (TRNB) to organize a round table discussion titled “Revision of Telecom Policy” yesterday. Rohan Samarajiva was the keynote speaker in this event. Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology Minister Abdul Latif Siddique and BTRC chairman Sunil Kanti Bose along with the telecom sector’s key officials were present. Rohan has urged to improve the indicators of Bangladesh by setting milestones in the revised telecom policy.
Prepaid has diminished the appeal of Mobile Number Portability (MNP). A recent study of GSMA suggests that merely 25% of developing markets have introduced MNP, while only a further 15% are known to be implementing it in the future. It means about 60% of regulators in the developing world have either decided against introducing MNP, or have made no progress to date. Sri Lanka Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (SLTRC) has found no value in MNP. The director-general of SLTRC, Anusha Palpita, told local media: ‘The main beneficiary of [MNP] and those demanding it [would be] post-paid mobile subscribers.
Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission has been dictating the termination rate of international voice traffic. This foolish act has made bypass pervasive and unstoppable. Now BTRC has trespassed into the central bank’s domain to dictate the fees of mobile banking transactions. Even the central bank doesn’t dictate the costs of mobile banking transactions. The telecom regulator is, however, reluctant to recognize the market.
It has a bit of background. Warid Telecom of Abu Dhabi had acquired the 6th mobile operating license in Bangladesh, through open auction at US$ 50 million in 2005. The license was bundled with 15 MHz. spectrum in 1800 MHz. band.
NTT Docomo has shrunk its shareholding, from 30% to 8%, in Robi Axiata – the third largest operator by subscriber in Bangladesh. The Japanese heavyweight has unleashed its fury at the regulatory malfunctions and questioned the government’s credibility. Press release of Robi Axiata on NTT’s exit is the most caustic one in Bangladesh’s telecoms history. The Docomo decision comes in the face of what it cites as an unfriendly regulatory environment and business uncertainties. The telecommunications industry is at a critical juncture in Bangladesh with many issues pending between the regulators and the government agencies, notably related to VAT rebate on 2G and 3G license and 2G licensing rules, which have not been addressed even in the recent circulars of the National Board of Revenue (NBR).
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.
Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) and Access to Information (A2I) project, being blessed by the Prime Minister’s Office, are blaming each other on the controversial allocation of 800 MHz spectrum to Ollo. BTRC said, according to a report of Dhaka Tribune: “I have gone through the matter and found that there were no irregularity on our part for allocating the spectrum,” BTRC Chairman Sunil Kanti Bose told the Dhaka Tribune yesterday. “BTRC cannot deny a request from the PMO and the 800MHz band allocation is not only for Ollo, it was allocated to other ISPs before also. A2I planned to use it for digital zila Jessore as well as for the whole country.” Bose also said as far as he is aware, Ollo has special plans to provide internet in rural areas through dongles.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has asked US carriers not to pay more than US$0.02 per minute to their Pakistani counterparts. This decree has been slapped after Pakistan has raised its international termination rate to $0.88 per minute, which the FCC calls anti-competitive. Pakistan’s 14 Long Distance and International (LDI) operators have formed a single international gateway called International Clearing House (ICH) and raised international termination prices in October 2012.
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.
The Bangladesh delegation flew to WCIT 2012 without necessary homework. Members had, however, informally said they would “follow the crowd” in the conference at Dubai. And they kept their word while voting in favor of the new ITR. After coming home, the team leader is triumphant: Least developed countries like Bangladesh will be benefitted from the recent amendment to international telecom regulations, said an official. Subscribers in Bangladesh will enjoy reduced international roaming charges, better internet security, freedom from junk mails, and wider access to international communication.
Bangladesh has raised its broadband bar from 128 Kbps to 1 Mbps, said a press report. Time will answer if it’s a political statement or an official roadmap. But the government’s prejudice on technology is alarming. The whole country should be connected through optical fibre cable. We want to provide broadband to all corners of the country, and it is very much possible.
Bangladesh delegate, led by BTRC chairman Mr. Sunil Kanti Bose, left for Dubai on December 2, 2012 late afternoon to attend WCIT 2012. On that very morning the telcos and ISPs were invited to “Consult” the stance Bangladesh would take on the revision of ITRs. Different links pertaining to the conference were emailed but nothing related to the government’s standpoint was shared. LIRNEasia was also invited to this meeting.