The government is scrambling to find an opening to make Teletalk eligible for the 4G spectrum auction scheduled for February, as the state-run operator as per guidelines is disqualified for running up dues of Tk 2,000 crore.
According to guidelines, all dues must be cleared to sit in the auction.
The operator did not forward its revenue-sharing portion from 3G services to the telecom regulator and neither did it make contributions to the social obligation fund. Teletalk did not have to pay any fee for the 3G licence.
“All operators are equal to us, according to the telecom act,” said Shahjahan Mahmood, chairman of Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission.
However, as per the BTRC top brass, the telecom regulator is banking on Teletalk's participation in the auction to drive up the spectrum price.
If the other three operators unofficially collude and refuse to sit in the spectrum auction, the government will go ahead and award the spectrum to only Teletalk and then go tough on others for their sub-par service quality.
At a meeting few weeks ago, the government has also restated its position clearly to the operators.
“Teletalk is a government-owned company and if the government takes responsibility of the dues and gives us any instruction then we will have to follow it,” Mahmood said.
However, Teletalk is taking preparations in full swing to participate in the auction.
It has already taken the no-objection certificate for importing 4G equipment and established some 4G sites in different parts of the country, according to a top BTRC official.
Teletalk also got undue advantage when it came to 3G service: the telecom regulator awarded it the spectrum for free a full year ahead of others.
It had rolled out its 3G service in August 2012, whereas the other operators only got their 3G licences in September 2013 after paying an upfront fee.
Teletalk's spectrum is valued at Tk 1,625 crore, as per the market rate.
As BTRC cannot follow the same rule this time, it will look to give Teletalk a head start in some other way.
Kazi Md Golam Quddus, managing director of Teletalk, said they are very optimistic that they will offer 4G service to their customers along with other operators.
“As a state-owned company, the government will provide BTRC the guarantee that it needs. We are taking preparations seriously and what I can say is that our customers will not be deprived of 4G service,” he added.
Collecting fees from Teletalk is nothing but a formality, BTRC officials said. If the government gives Teletalk the money, Teletalk will forward it to BTRC, who, in turn, will give it back to the government.