Teletalk’s dues to govt pile up
State-run mobile network operator Teletalk has yet again failed to pay fees to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) for the spectrum it acquired in the latest auction.
The commission has recently written to the operator, seeking Tk 100.75 crore in spectrum assignment fees and value-added tax. But it didn't make the payment, breaching the guidelines of the telecom regulator.
According to the instructions for Radio Frequency Auction 2022, some 10 per cent of the total amount of the payable spectrum assignment fee was supposed to be paid within 60 days from the notification date of the auction result.
Teletalk acquired the spectrum through the auction that took place on March 31 this year and was supposed to clear the 10 per cent of fee by June 30.
The commission requested Teletalk to pay the fees for the spectrum as soon as possible, including a 15 per cent late fee.
"It's our job to notify whoever fails to pay the dues. In this case, we have told them to pay the fee, including the late fee," said Subrata Roy Maitra, vice-chairman of the BTRC.
This was not the first time the state-run mobile phone operator has failed to clear bills. In fact, Teletalk's repeated failures to make payments against spectrum and other fines.
In June, the BTRC fined four mobile phone operators — Teletalk, Robi Axiata, Grameenphone and Banglalink — Tk 7.65 crore in total for operating illegal VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol).
Robi, Grameenphone and Banglalink paid Tk 2.8 crore.
The BTRC slapped the highest Tk 5 crore fine on Teletalk, but it hasn't paid the fine yet.
Teletalk owes Tk 1,631 crore to the government, Mustafa Jabbar, telecom minister, told parliament in June.
Of the sum, Tk 1,585 crore was for the 3G spectrum assignment fee that Teletalk acquired in 2012.
Speaking to The Daily Star, Md Shahab Uddin, managing director of Teletalk Bangladesh, said: "After getting the letter from the BTRC, we have sought money from the ministry. Once we get the money, we will pay it."
TELETALK FAILS TO ENSURE STANDARD SERVICES
Teletalk often ranks the lowest among the operators in Bangladesh when it comes to delivering quality services, according to various reports of the BTRC and global independent agencies.
It has failed to ensure the standard call success rate and the call drop rate in the Dhaka division, excluding the two city corporations in the capital.
According to the result of a nationwide drive-test of the BTRC last year, the average call success rate of Teletalk was 96.8 per cent and the call drop was 2.59 per cent.
However, the call success rate should be 97 per cent or more, while the call drop should be less than 2 per cent and the call setup time should be less than seven seconds, according to the policy of the BTRC.
The Mobile Network Experience Report published recently by Opensignal, an independent global standard for analysing consumer mobile experience, showed Banglalink, Grameenphone and Robi are joint winners of its 4G availability award given their statistically tied scores, which are in the 78.9-80.7 per cent range.
Teletalk came last with a score of 60.6 per cent. This means that 4G users on the network spent 60.6 per cent of their time with an active 4G connection on average.
Teletalk has weaknesses in its internal control system, said the Comptroller and Auditor General of Bangladesh in a report after carrying out an audit into the operator for the fiscal years of 2004-05 to 2010-11.
The operator's internal control system is not effective due to the administrative weakness of top-level management, it said.
"A lack of an effective system of revenue assurance has created ample scope for fraud. No professional or academically qualified persons have ever been appointed in the finance department."
"Teletalk is under serious financial risk, which is detrimental to the company's profitability and sustainability," it added.
In its report for FY2015-16, the CAG's office said due to a lack of proper decision-making by Teletalk's board, necessary guidance and an ability to prepare its own plan, the operator has not been able to formulate any long-term strategic plan or short-term action plan even though 10 years have passed since the beginning of the business.
Abu Saeed Khan, a senior policy fellow at LIRNEasia, a Colombo-based think-tank, called for taking strict actions against Teletalk for its non-compliance.
"The BTRC should immediately use its authority to regulate the market. Otherwise, it would lose its moral authority."
Shahab Uddin of Teletalk said the company is lagging in competition with the private operators due to scanty investment.
The government has taken two projects, involving Tk 2,700 crore, to expand the 4G network of the operator at the union level, haor and char areas.
"Upon completion of the projects, our network capability will expand strongly."