GrameenPhone


Little over a year ago, I wrote about various infrastructure initiatives linking South Asia with Central Asia. Using the gas pipelines’, power grid’s and road networks’ right-of-way of for cross-border telecoms link was central to my arguments. Now the Indian Railways has planned to create a network, dubbed as ITI-DKD-Y corridor, to operate freight train service over a stretch of 6,000 kilometers. It will connect Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey through railway tracks, according to the Indian Express. Indian Railways has called South Asian railway heads involved in the project to work out the nitty-gritty at a high-level meeting on March 15-16.
Bangladesh took a giant leap in terms of redefining broadband from 128 Kbps to 1 Mbps at the end of last year. Such politically motivated administrative intervention has, however, failed to improve its abysmal broadband profile in the region. The Broadband Commission, in conjunction with ITU and UNESCO, has published the “State of Broadband 2013: Universalizing Broadband” report on September 21, 2013. Various indicators of broadband covering 194 countries until the end of 2012 have been captured in this publication. It shows that Bangladesh ranks 161 with 6.
Adrenaline didn’t flow in Bangladesh 3G auction today. It could be anything but auction when four bidders show up for four licenses. Bangladesh government has priced US$20 million per Megahertz for 40 MHz of spectrum in 2100 MHz band. It is in addition to 10 MHz spectrum being assigned to state-owned Teletalk. Theoretically, Grameenphone (Telenor), Banglalink (Vimpelcom), Robi (Axiata) and Airtel (Bharti Airtel) could have had at least 10 MHz each.
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).
For the longest time, I could not understand why there were no legal challenges to the regulator in Bangladesh. No one went to court, however arbitrary the decisions were. Looks like that has changed. Grameenphone has won a crucial legal battle with regulators BTRC as High Court has rejected claim for an extra Tk 236 crore in spectrum fees levied in 2008. A two-judge bench also said the BTRC was however right in asking for the spectrum and licence renewal fees without deducting value added tax.
Market share is never the final determinant of market power. It is used as a screen for further investigation and/or to shift the burden of proof. So, for example, an HHI (Herfindahl Hirschman Index) greater than 1700 or 1800 is triggers anti-trust investigations by the US government in the case of mergers and acquisitions. In the case of determining significant market power in telecom regulation (LIRNEasia is quite skeptical about the value of this approach in developing countries), market shares of around 35-45 percent shift the burden on the operator to prove that it does not have market power (the ability to set and maintain prices in simple language). But in Bangladesh 20 percent market share is the magic number.
I have been invited to speak at an event in Dhaka on March 10th intended to improve the understanding of the complexities of telecom policy and regulation by Bangladeshi journalists. I am here responding to a question whether speaking at events such as this organized by operators could create a negative perception about LIRNEasia. Is it better to have journalists who understand the technical aspects of the industry and the practice of regulation, than not? I think the answer is clearly yes. Does this fall within LIRNEasia’s mission, yes.
Bangladesh is amending its telecoms law that scraps the operators’ right to appeal. The regulator or the police can register a case, even on suspicion, and arrest any official of any telecom operator without a warrant. The regulator will be the investigator and can decide on any form of punishment. And the operators will not be allowed to have a say if the regulator changes or even scraps the licenses. The proposed amendment is likely to get parliamentary approval next month.
Rohan Samarajiva, LIRNEasia’s CEO, delivered a keynote address at the recently concluded South Asia Mobile Summit, held in Dhaka, Bangladesh, 21 – 22 October 2009. The two-day event was organized by the South Asia Mobile Forum, a consortium of telecom industry players in the SAARC region, with the aim of creating a platform for market, institutional and technological issues to be discussed and progress made. Rohan made a presentation on South Asia’s  Budget Telecom Network Model, that has been adopted by many regional telcos in providing voice services to the bottom of the pyramid (BOP), and how the same can be applied to broadband services as well. The presentation drew on findings from LIRNEasia’s Teleuse@BOP, telecom regulatory environment (TRE) and mobile benchmark studies. The full presentation can be downloaded here.
Talk in the Bangladesh telecom sector has been focused on taxes these days because the government had proposed a 25% tax on handsets and the retention of the controversial TK 800 tax on SIMs. These are counterproductive taxes both in terms of improving government revenues and connecting people electronically; their combined effect is to make it a lot more expensive to get connected. It’s only people who are connected who generate usage-based taxes, they are counter-productive for the government and they absolutely go against plans for a Digital Bangladesh. At the end of all the efforts to change the government’s mind, all that happened is the reduction of the handset tax. Full report in the Daily Star.
Dhaka, Nov 3 (bdnews24.com) – GrameenPhone’s coverage beyond Bangladesh’s boundary has forced the Indian government to deploy cellular mobile network in the neglected northeastern states, reports Kolkota-based The Telegraph Friday. The Indians along the Bangladesh border in Meghalaya and other north-eastern states “are forced to use prepaid cards of GrameenPhone, the largest cell phone service provider of Bangladesh, paying ISD call rates.” People without mobile phones cross the border and use Bangladeshi phone booths and they pay hefty amounts of international tariff to call own country, the report alleges. Villagers have complained to the Telegraph correspondent that the Indian government does not provide them basic telecoms facilities on the pretext of security.