BTRC seeks to remove bar on Citycell shutdown
The telecom regulator yesterday filed an appeal against a High Court order that barred it from shutting down Citycell's service on August 24.
“The law has given full power to Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission to seize any operator's spectrum anytime,” said Attorney General Mahbubey Alam.
The government had planned to bring down the curtains on Citycell's operations yesterday after the operator failed to clear dues amounting to Tk 477.63 crore.
But on Monday, a High Court bench of Justice Syed Refaat Ahmed asked the BTRC not to bar Citycell's operations until September 16, which is the deadline for the operator to respond to a licence cancellation notice sent by the telecom regulator.
On August 17, the BTRC served notice on Citycell asking it to explain within 30 days why its licence should not be cancelled despite the failure to pay its dues.
“Licence cancellation and spectrum cancellation are two different matters,” Alam said.
The government can shut down an operator's services anytime it wants, but to cancel its licence due procedures have to be followed, which can take a while.
The BTRC is now going through the procedure to cancel Citycell's licence, but in the meantime it can shut the operator's services by cancelling its spectrum, he said.
The hearing on the appeal will be held on August 28, according to the attorney general.
Citycell is taking preparations for the court hearing, said one of its senior executives.
The operator did not pay the second and third instalments -- amounting to Tk 229 crore -- of its spectrum renewal fee, which were due in 2012. The operator renewed its licence for another 15 years in 2011.
Besides, it owes annual spectrum fees totalling Tk 27.14 crore from 2013 through to 2016; revenue sharing proceeds of Tk 27.84 crore from 2014 to 2016; social obligatory fund contributions of Tk 8.92 crore from 2011 to 2016; value-added taxes of Tk 39.92 crore; and Tk 135 crore in penalty.
In the first week of August, Citycell sought time until December 31 to clear its outstanding charges with the telecom regulator.
In a statement on Monday, Citycell said the BTRC's August 17 notice was identical to the one it had sent in February 2014, which the operator had responded to.
“Pacific Bangladesh Telecom Ltd received no further update in this regard and therefore the reply was to the satisfaction of BTRC.”
Citycell said re-issuing the notice that “was duly responded to shows the malafide intention of the BTRC” and it is considering challenging the latest notice “in the appropriate form”.
Meanwhile, since last week, Citycell's employees have been forming human chains outside the operator's head office to urge the prime minister to save their jobs.
They also placed a seven-point demand to the Prime Minister's Office.
Citycell began operations in 1993, making it the country's first mobile phone service provider.
Citycell's subscription reached a peak of 19 lakh in 2011, but it has been a minor player in the market for at least 10 years now. Currently, it has about 1.5 lakh active connections.
The operator's revenue was Tk 139.77 crore in fiscal 2014-15, while its investment was zero, according to the BTRC's annual report.
Singapore's SingTel owns 44.54 percent shares of Citycell, local Pacific Motors 37.95 percent and Far East Telecom 17.51 percent.