Citycell users ask for compensation
Pulack Ghatack, a journalist in Dhaka, has been using a Citycell connection for the last 17 years. Despite network problems and poor service quality in the last few years, he did not switch to any other operator.
He was quite upset upon learning about the government's recent decision to shut the country's oldest network, which began operations in 1993.
“I took two alternate connections recently and had to update my bank account information, credit cards and other things. At the same time, it had to inform my colleagues and other contacts of the change in number,” said Ghatack.
The government had a plan to bring down the curtains on Citycell on August 24, after the operator failed to clear dues amounting to Tk 477.51 crore. However, a High Court bench asked Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission not to shut its operations until September 16.
BTRC appealed against the High Court order on Wednesday and a hearing is due today. “We have taken preparations and will take action in line with the court order,” said BTRC Chairman Shahjahan Mahmood.
BTRC has also formed a committee that will shut down Citycell's network immediately after getting orders from authorities.
On July 31, the regulator issued a public notice and asked Citycell subscribers to switch to any other operator by August 16; the government later extended the time till August 23.
Nayeem Nowroz, another user, bought his Citycell connection 20 years ago, at Tk 13,000. “I had wanted several times to leave the operator because of weak network. But I did not do so fearing my contacts will not find me.”
Recently he switched to another operator. “It was a hassle,” he said.
Both Ghatack and Nowroz think authorities should consider compensating the users for their losses.
Senior executives of Citycell said they have already taken connections from other operators; Robi has a campaign to grab the Citycell customers.
Citycell's subscription had 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.
Of its total dues, Citycell did not pay the second and third instalments -- amounting to Tk 229 crore -- of its spectrum renewal fees, which were due in 2012. The operator renewed its licence for another 15 years in 2011.
In the first week of August, Citycell sought time until December 31 to clear its dues.
Insiders said Citycell has around Tk 4,000 crore in loans and dues with different banks, financial institutions, National Board of Revenue, BTRC, vendors and other operators.
Singapore's SingTel owns a 44.54 percent share in Citycell, Pacific Motors 37.95 percent and Far East Telecom 17.51 percent.
Shareholders have been trying to sell the company for the last few years, but they did not find any interested party.
The operator's revenue was Tk 139.77 crore in fiscal 2014-15, according to the BTRC.
Its revenue was Tk 230.52 crore in fiscal 2013-14 and Tk 267.64 crore in 2012-13.