The telecom regulator has served notices on Grameenphone and Robi, asking them to explain why their licences to offer 2G and 3G services will not be revoked for failure to pay up “dues” found in audit despite reminders.
The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission or BTRC served the notices on Thursday and gave the country’s two leading mobile telecom operators 30 days to respond.
“A notice has been sent to Grameenphone and Robi pursuant to section 46(2) of the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulation Act, 2001, asking why their licences will not be scrapped. They must respond within 30 days,” said BTRC Chairman Jahurul Haque.
In its immediate reaction to the BTRC notice, Grameenphone termed it “unjustified” and yet “another step by the regulator to refuse our invitation to seek an amicable solution related to a disputed audit claim”.
Grameenphone would assess the notice before considering its response, the operator said in a statement.
“We will take necessary measures to protect the rights of the company, our shareholders and customers against unwarranted actions by the regulator,” the statement said.
Robi will respond to the notice in due course, its Chief Corporate and Regulatory Officer Shahed Alam said.
“Issuing show-cause notice over license cancellation will create [an] adverse reaction among the investors and uncertainty [will loom over] subscribers,” he added.
The Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh has declined comment on the BTRC notice.
The association’s former secretary general TIM Nurul Kabir said the government should think whether the step will resolve the issue.
“This notice can affect foreign investment because both the operators are foreign. Such a firm stance could have been avoided,” he said, pointing out that Grameenphone is the Bangladesh unit of Norway’s Telenor while Malaysia’s Axiata Group Berhad owns Robi.
He believes there can be difference of opinion about audit, but it should be settled through discussions.
“The government must think about the quality of regulations. Will they only collect money, or will they also oversee the industry’s growth?” Nurul Kabir asked.
“The main objective is that the operators must pay. But there should be reviews for a proper solution,” he told bdnews24.com.
Nurul Kabir also said the regulator’s move has made him “concerned about the entire telecom industry of Bangladesh”.
“The effects of the notice should be thought of, because the telecommunication sector draws huge investment,” he explained.
The BTRC’s move came seven days after Posts and Telecommunications Division wrote to the regulator to take measures on revoking the licences of the operators.
The regulator claimed Grameenphone was yet to pay about Tk 125.8 billion and Robi over Tk 8.67 billion in “dues found in audit”.
In a reprisal for the failure of the operators to pay up the “dues” despite reminders, it ordered the International Internet Gateway or IIG operators to limit Grameenphone’s bandwidth capacity by 30 percent and Robi’s 15 percent on July 4.
But the BTRC rolled back the internet bandwidth cuts for the operators 13 days later citing “problems facing users”.
Both Grameenphone and Robi continue to provide their services despite the BTRC stopping issuing NOCs. However, they cannot expand their networks or install BTS, introduce new packages, or change any existing packages.
By doing so, the authorities have hampered the users’ interest, damaged the national economy and even tarnished the country’s image, claim both operators.
Grameenphone and Robi have both proposed to settle the dispute through arbitration after raising objections to the BTRC’s demand.
But the BTRC stuck to its gun, saying there is no provision of arbitration in its policy.
Out of over 160 million registered mobile phone SIM cards, Grameenphone has 74.7 million and Robi 47.6 million. It means 46.49 mobile phone users of Bangladesh receive Grameenphone services and 29.65 percent h