Grameenphone, Robi slate BTRC’s decision to withhold approvals

  • Shamim Ahmed,
    Published: 2019-09-16 22:06:46 BdST

Grameenphone and Robi have hit out at the telecom regulator's decision to withhold approvals, including NOCs for their operations, in an apparent bid to force them to pay up disputed audit money.

The country's two top mobile operators said the move is hampering the expansion of the 4G network while hindering the internet usage of customers and in turn adversely affecting businesses, education as well as other social and economic development.

According to the BTRC, Grameenphone has about Tk 125.8 billion in dues found in audit while Robi, the second largest operator in terms of subscriber base, also has over Tk 8.67 billion in unpaid bills.

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.

It was followed by the decision to stop issuing NOCs and other approvals before  notices were served on Grameenphone and Robi on Sept 5, asking them to explain why their licences to offer 2G and 3G services will not be revoked over the failure to pay up.

The operators with a combined customer base of over 120 million were given 30 days to reply as BTRC Chairman Jahurul Haque threatened to appoint administrators to recover the arrears should they fail to respond or pay up. 

But prior to the issuance of the notice, Robi and Grameenphone filed separate civil suits to settle the dispute on Aug 25 and 26 respectively, calling the BTRC's claims ‘unfounded’ and ‘faulty’.

On the regulator's move to withhold NOCs, Grameenphone on Monday said, "Restricting operators from their ongoing 4G roll out for better data network is a contradiction to the government's vision of a 'Digital Bangladesh'."

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, change any existing packages or import equipment without the clearances.

BTRC should not restrict the import of equipment for building data network, said Grameenphone, adding, "The NOC and intimation blockage was put in place by the BTRC with the intent to put pressure on us for making payment against the disputed audit claim."

"Such unwarranted measures by the BTRC will negatively impact internet usage that has direct relation to business, education, and other social and economic development."

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.

All types of investments have been put on hold as a result of the regulator's decision, said Robi's Chief Corporate and Regulatory Officer Shahed Alam.

"It has cast uncertainty over the Tk 15 billion worth of investments for this year. We planned to roll out the 4.5G network this year but that had to be shelved,"  he added.

Stressing the challenges faced by the operator to ensure a quality telecommunication service, Shahed commented: "Despite overcoming a number of hurdles, the move to block NOCs and the new tax regulations threatens to scupper whatever chances Robi had of making a profit this year."

It will also make it difficult for the operators to achieve the government's aim of expanding mobile broadband internet in the country, according to him.

"We believe the BTRC should reconsider its anti-investment decision in the interest of customers," Robi's chief corporate and regulatory officer said.