The government has decided to slash the international incoming call rates by 50 percent to 1.5 cents a minute on a test basis for the next six months to discourage illegal call trafficking.
An official of the Prime Minister's Office said the proposal, which was put forward by the telecom regulator several months ago, was approved by the premier on Thursday.
Sunil Kanti Bose, chairman of the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, said: “We want to slash the call rates to examine the legal call flows. We will review the rates after six months.”
As the matter involves a big amount of revenue, the proposal was forwarded to the prime minister. Due to the cuts in the call rates, the government may lose hundreds of crores of taka initially, but earnings will increase later once legal calls begin to go up, another BTRC official said.
Since 2008 the regulator has changed the international incoming call rates five times, with the latest proposal coming in July last year.
Currently, some telecom service providers including international gateways carry overseas calls through illegal channels using the voice over internet protocol (VoIP) technology.
The rest of the revenues are distributed among international gateways (IGW), telecom operators and interconnection exchanges (ICX).
IGWs transport international calls, while ICXs connect different telecom service providers. If any call comes to the country bypassing the IGW- ICX route, it becomes illegal and the government does not get any revenue.
The telecom operators have accepted the matter positively, but some IGW operators said the move will not reduce illegal international calls.
In January, the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh wrote a letter to the telecom ministry to reduce the international incoming call rates from 3 cents to 1.5 cents as most illegal VoIP calls cost between 1.5 cents and 2 cents.
Mir Nasir Hossain, managing director of Mir Telecom, an IGW operator, had told The Daily Star earlier that it has become tough to make profits as many new IGWs are in operation.
The situation will be more challenging when the call rates will be reduced, he added.
Currently, there are 29 IGWs in the country though nine are inactive as they could not pay revenue worth around Tk 500 crore to the government, or do not want to continue the business. The regulator is also in a process to cancel 4-5 licences.